Award Funds Student’s Particle Physics Research
Apr. 27, 2010
UT Dallas physics student Alex Palmer has won an award from the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Graduate Fellowship Program to pursue research on particle physics.
The terms of the fellowship are generous. The $50,500 award includes support for tuition and fees, an annual living stipend and an annual research stipend. It is renewable for up to three years, as long as the fellow makes progress toward a PhD and attends a yearly research conference.
“I’m very excited because it grants me a lot of extra freedom in graduate school,” said Palmer, who will graduate this May with a bachelor’s in physics. “I can likely get into research during my first semester, rather than just taking classes and being a TA. Additionally, if for some reason I decide to switch specialties within physics, I won’t be a year behind.”
Palmer is also a recipient of the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and is a member of the University’s Eugene McDermott Scholars Program. Since his junior year, he has studied under Dr. Joseph Izen, principal investigator of the Elementary Particle Physics Group.
“From the very start, Alex functioned at the level of a graduate student,” Izen said. “The running joke amongst physicists on our experiment is that Alex is likely to complete his PhD before his BS.”
“The DOE fellowship is great news for Alex,” Izen said. “It’s not enough to be a smart person with strong grades. At this level, students earn these awards by demonstrating their ability and interest in research. It’s a lot of hard work.”
According to Izen, the award is an indicator that the physics is on the right track. “UT Dallas has always been able to attract strong students,” he said. “Awards like Alex’s are an affirmation that the coursework and research opportunities we provide in physics allow our students to compete with the best our country has to offer.”
The highly-competitive program was established to support outstanding students as they pursue graduate training in basic research in areas of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computational sciences and environmental sciences relevant to the DOE’s Office of Science and to encourage the development of the next generation scientific and technical talent in the U.S.
Palmer’s current research utilizes data collected with the BaBar detector at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory which is adjacent to the Stanford University campus. The BaBar experiment recorded collisions of electrons and positrons at high energies to understand fundamental aspects of particle physics.
“Many things can result from smashing electrons and positrons together, but I am specifically looking at events where two particles called Lambda_c’s come out of the electron-positron collision,” Palmer said. “By analyzing these events, I can determine how the rate to produce a Lambda C-anti-Lambda-C (Λ⁺cΛ⁻c ) system from the annihilation energy of the electron and varies with the energy of the collision.”
After graduation Palmer is headed to Chicago, where he’ll use his award to pursue a graduate degree in experimental high-energy physics at The University of Chicago.
Palmer, a 20-year-old senior from Midlothian, Texas, hopes to become a researcher or professor in an elementary physics specialty such as high energy physics or cosmology, a path that he says began with the quality of education he received at UT Dallas.
“UT Dallas has given me a great education, and I always feel on par with other students I meet from larger institutions,” Palmer said. “More importantly though, UT Dallas has given me an opportunity to participate in undergraduate research and activities outside of the classroom.”