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MicroBooNE – Neutrino physics with liquid argon

The neutrino group at Otterbein (that is, myself and one or two students) are busy working on a new experiment called MicroBooNE at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab. This experiment measures the rates of different kinds of neutrino interactions with nuclei by looking at the ionized particle tracks left in a huge tank of liquid argon. An electric field “drifts” the ionization electrons to a set of wires for easy readout.

The wire cage that surrounds the detection volume is about 3m x 3m x 10m. This gets put into a huge tank (the cryostat) which holds 170 tons of liquid argon.

I’m busy working on several parts of this experiment: namely the event viewer. You can see some simulated data with my Argo Event Viewer. I’m also working on the DAQ (Data AQuisition) group, providing them tools for doing online monitoring of the data. This will allow us to keep an eye on the health of the detector as we set it up and run it.

A simulated electron neutrino as will be seen by the MicroBooNE liquid argon time projection chamber.
A simulated electron neutrino as will be seen by the MicroBooNE liquid argon time projection chamber.

Philip Kellogg will be working with me next summer trying to identify Michel electrons (electrons resulting from the beta-decay of stopped cosmic-ray muons) and using them to try to measure the energy response of the detector. With a little luck, this will make a great senior thesis. I’ll also be looking for one other lucky student to work on this project.

MicroBooNE is being built now; first data will probably start coming out around the time we start classes after the summer of 2014… but we get to have fun putting the whole thing together very soon.

You can ‘like’ MicroBooNE on their facebook page!

— Nathaniel

Cardinal Science Scholars Grant Renewed

The departments of Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics have been awarded a grant of $629,000 by the National Science Foundation for the continuation and expansion of the Cardinal Science Scholars program (CSS).  The program was begun in 2009 and includes scholarship monies for talented students, as well as support for co-curricular activities designed to help students be successful in their academic and professional lives.  CS Scholars participate in mentoring groups, professional development activities, seminars, visits to local industries and laboratories, living-learning communities, and more.

Scholarships of $6k-10k per year are available to students in physics, engineering, chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology, mathematics and computer science.  Please contact Prof. Joan Esson (Chemistry/BMB), Dave Robertson (Physics/Engineering), or Adriana Nenciu (Mathematics/Computer Science) if you have questions or would like more information.

Moving Forward with Engineering

The Otterbein Senate voted on November 20 to approve the creation of a new program in Systems Engineering.  This is an innovative, integrated engineering curriculum based on foundational courses in mechanical and electrical engineering, and advanced courses on industrial and complex systems analysis.  Profs. Dave Robertson and Aaron Reinhard of the Physics Department were leaders in this development, and Reinhard has assumed the position of Interim Director of Systems Engineering.  A national search is underway to hire a full-time Director, who will start this coming August.  The goal is to admit our first cohort of students in Fall 2015.

The 3+2 Cooperative Engineering program run by the Physics Department will continue, allowing students the opportunity to pursue areas of engineering other than systems.

Computer games in physics teaching

Students will know that I love computer games – we spend far too much time discussing them outside of class. But they can be useful even inside class. Here are a few I’d recommend for physics students or teachers:

A Slower Speed of Light is a simulation from MIT labs which shows all the effects one would see if you could move at a substantial fraction of the speed of light: the tunnel-vision effect, red- or blue-shifting, time dilation, etc.  Fun to play with for ten minutes.

Osmos is a sweet little game for the iPad, computer, or consoles, which gives you control of a bacterium-like creature that moves by expelling part of it’s mass as “exhaust”, and eats other objects in it’s 2-D universe.  Besides the original ideas of momentum conservation, later levels introduce some simple orbital mechanics, as large ‘stars’ and ‘planets’ effect the trajectory of all the little objects in your universe.  I’ve assigned this game as extra credit in my classical mechanics courses.

Kerbal Space Program is still in beta on Steam, but it’s clear from the brief tutorial that it’s both silly and serious at the same time – you can just build a monstrosity of a rocket and smash into the ground, or you can carefully perform rocket burns for orbital transfer and insertion to the “Mun”.  Might be a fun game to play in a small group, although the controls are not exactly intuitive.  A game to watch.

 

—Nathaniel

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