Please tell us about your work
On Friday, January 3 at about 5 a.m. Central Standard Time, Onne Peters was on a control room shift for Fermilab’s DZero detector when he saw something that wasn’t right: hot cells, or excess jets, appearing in the detector’s calorimeter. He immediately notified the shift captain, who alerted the calorimeter expert on shift, and the problem was solved.
It might sound like particle physics business as usual in the predawn of a winter morning, but there was a big difference: Peters was serving his DZero control room shift from a computer at NIKHEF, the National Institute for Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics in Amsterdam, Holland. Some 4,000 miles and an ocean away from the chilly predawn in Batavia, Illinois, Peters was hooked into DZero’s new Global Monitoring System.
DZero has seen the future, and it works.
It works as far away as NIKHEF in Holland; the Saclay laboratory of CEA, the French Atomic Energy Commission; and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, where experimenters have taken “virtual” shifts in the DZero control room through the Global Monitoring System.
“This is absolutely the wave of the future,” said Peters. “With increasingly international collaborations, it is just not feasible to expect people to be available on-site for a large amount of time. This is a trend we see with remote computing, the remote analysis stations, as well, and I certainly foresee that these projects will benefit high-energy physics greatly.”
DZero cospokesperson John Womersley also sees future applications when the Large Hadron Collider begins operations at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory.
“Five to ten years from now, many U.S. institutions, Fermilab among them, will themselves become remote collaborators working on LHC experiments,” Womersley said. “We need to learn how to contribute effectively to all aspects of LHC physics, and remote participation in data taking operations will be an important piece of the puzzle.
The global monitoring hookup was “godmothered” from concept to operation by DZero physicist Pushpalatha Bhat, with yeoman work on the user interface and the communication system—a global message board—by her undergraduate student, Jason Webb, who works part-time at DZero while studying electronic engineering at DeVry University in Addison, Illinois.
Pushpalatha (Pushpa) is a scientist at Fermilab. She conducts research with high energy particle colliders to learn about the most basic building blocks of matter and their interactions.
What inspired you to work in STEM? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
In ninth grade, when I was 13 years old, and had to make a decision about my “elective” subjects, I chose to pursue physics, chemistry, and mathematics.
Pushpa attended Central College, Bangalore University, earning a Ph.D in Physics.
What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy?
Analyzing the experimental data we collect, often inventing new and novel ways to learn new things about the nature of elementary particles and our universe. When we make great discoveries, of course!!! I have been fortunate to be intimately involved in the discovery of two elementary particles — the top quark in 1995 at the Fermilab Tevatron and the Higgs boson in 2012 at CERN’s LHC — and to study their properties with data. Those were awesome!
I very much enjoy spearheading challenging projects that most others think are nearly impossible to accomplish, but if we did they could bring huge returns. I enjoy thinking outside the box and to come up with unconventional and novel ways to do things.
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
Our country can engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM by creating learning and working environments where they are treated as being fully capable of pursuing and succeeding in STEM fields, giving them ample opportunities, and rewarding their accomplishments equitably. As more and more females and members of underrepresented groups pursue STEM fields and become teachers, scientists and engineers, many more will be persuaded to enter the STEM fields and we will reach the appropriate balance. The situation seems to be slowly but steadily improving, but a “critical mass” has to be reached to invigorate and sustain the optimal results.
Some practical solutions include creating/increasing internship opportunities at national labs, universities, and industry for girls and other underrepresented minorities who are pursuing STEM subjects at the university level. Persuading some of the successful women and members of underrepresented minorities in STEM careers at these organizations to supervise/mentor the interns, and providing the supervisors/mentors with grants/resources might prove to be effective.
It might be instructive to get the views of women, girls, and members of the underrepresented groups on STEM-fields related issues — perspective, aspirations, challenges, environments, teaching methods, resources, workplace issues, etc.
Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Passion, dedication, and perseverance are the important attributes required in pursuing a career in scientific research. Such a career could be very exciting and incredibly rewarding. Experiments in my field of high energy physics nowadays take several years to decades to develop, build, and get results. Therefore, a lot of patience and dedication are needed to follow through to success. It also helps to think outside the box so that you can make unique contributions to science.