Sean O’Keefe is a University Professor and the Howard G. and S. Louise Phanstiel Chair in Strategic Management and Leadership in the Maxwell School. O’Keefe served as administrator of NASA during the George W. Bush Administration. In a recent op-ed…
The Large Hadron Collider, located on the border of France and Switzerland, is known for its powerful ability to sling particles near the speed of light. Here at Syracuse University, Scott Ely, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences, is gaining a reputation for slinging scientific concepts almost as fast.
Ely was recently honored at the U.S. Large Hadron Collider Users (US LHC) Association Meeting this past fall for his winning “Lightning Round” talk. During the US LHC meeting, young scientists are given the opportunity to discuss their research in several quick-fire sessions. The presentations, which must be under 10 minutes, cover a wide range of topics, from physics analyses to computational developments and hardware improvements. When the smoke cleared, Ely was named among the top presenters at the international conference.
Having been intimately involved in the development of specialized silicon sensors for a new tracking sub-detector that will be installed in the LHC Beauty experiment next year, Ely was uniquely equipped to succinctly discuss this area of research in progress at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN.
The Large Hadron Collider is a powerful particle accelerator used to study the fundamental particles of matter. Using 17 miles of tunnels and a series of formidable magnets, the machine creates super-speed, particle-sized collisions, allowing physicists to gather more clues about the properties and forces that impact matter—and leading to even bigger questions, such as how the universe was formed.
Ely earned his undergraduate degree in applied physics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, prior to his arrival at Syracuse. The San Francisco Bay area native hopes to defend his doctoral dissertation in experimental high energy physics in 2019.
A&S News caught up with Ely prior to winter break to learn more about his research and his reaction to being recognized at the conference.
01Tell us about your current area of research at Syracuse University.
I work with Professor Marina Artuso for the LHC Beauty (LHCb) experiment at CERN. (Editor’s note: LHCb is an experiment set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive.)
A large portion of my research is dedicated to the LHCb-UT (Upgrade Tracker). We are building this new tracking sub-detector that will be installed in the LHCb detector starting in 2019. The particle detection is accomplished by using silicon detectors. These are semiconductor devices allow passing charged particles to be detected. This is a part of a larger upgrade effort for the LHCb detector, which will allow the experiment to take data at higher energies and increased luminosity.
02What inspired you to pursue your current academic path?
While studying at UC Santa Cruz, I started to work for the ATLAS experiment (one of four major experiments happening at CERN) to characterize silicon sensor processing techniques, as well as making some of the first measurements on Ultra-Fast Silicon Diodes, which is one of the frontiers of silicon detector technology. My experience there prepared me to work on the LHCb-UT, focusing on the characterization of the new design features employed by the sensors.
03Tell us about your eight-minute talk that won the competition. What was the topic, how did you prepare and why do you think it resonated so well?
For years we have been developing silicon sensors for the LHCb-UT. These sensors have several novel design features, which must be extensively tested.
Using our design, we can better support our sensor and simplify the construction procedure for assembling the sensors with the other readout components.
In 2016, I was stationed at CERN, where I participated in two ‘test beam’ experiments. The goal of these is to assess the performance of the sensors, after they have been irradiated at the CERN Proton- Synchrotron, which uses 24GeV protons. During that campaign, we saw that our pitch adapters showed some drastic inefficiencies, which forced us to redesign the sensor layout.
In 2017, I returned to CERN in both May and August to organize the irradiation of the newly designed sensors and participate in the first test beam experiment. I then led the second test beam effort in August from CERN, and upon completion, we finalized the sensor design for the majority of sensors that will be used in the Upgrade Tracker.
My talk covered the experiments described above and the results. Having been so deeply involved in every stage, I was well prepared to speak at the conference. I think I received the positive reaction because the experiments could be well understood: we had clear goals for each test beam and got some definitive and critical results. This should be exciting for particle physicists, as this will allow us to probe higher energies and search for new physics in never before explored regions.
04What is the prize for winning at the event?
Several students from the lightning round sessions are invited to join the United States Large Hadron Collider Users Association annual trip to Washington, D.C. While the details of the trip are still developing, sometime in the spring we will accompany the team to meet with congressional representatives to discuss high energy physics.
05What was your reaction to being honored?
I am very excited! There was a lot of effort put into perfecting the sensors that will ultimately be used in the UT, and after playing a crucial role in the organization and execution of these experiments over the past two years, it was great to be appreciated for these efforts. However, it certainly was not a one-person job; in addition to our whole team at SU we have had tremendous support by many of our collaborating institutes, including INFN in Milano, AGH in Krakow, University of Zurich, MIT, University of Cincinnati and the University of Maryland.
06What do you hope to do after graduation from Syracuse University?
I would like to continue working in high-energy physics, particularly working for an experiment with CERN. I do enjoy the hardware side of physics, and researching at the frontier of silicon technology is a big interest.
About Syracuse University
Founded in 1870, Syracuse University is a private international research university dedicated to advancing knowledge and fostering student success through teaching excellence, rigorous scholarship and interdisciplinary research. Comprising 11 academic schools and colleges, the University has a long legacy of excellence in the liberal arts, sciences and professional disciplines that prepares students for the complex challenges and emerging opportunities of a rapidly changing world. Students enjoy the resources of a 270-acre main campus and extended campus venues in major national metropolitan hubs and across three continents. Syracuse’s student body is among the most diverse for an institution of its kind across multiple dimensions, and students typically represent all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Syracuse also has a long legacy of supporting veterans and is home to the nationally recognized Institute for Veterans and Military Families, the first university-based institute in the U.S. focused on addressing the unique needs of veterans and their families.