Doctoral Student Goes to Washington, Explains Why Physics Matters
Sept. 15, 2014
Conducting original research at UT Dallas opens many doors for the University’s undergraduates and graduate students, including doors in the nation’s capital.
This spring, UT Dallas physics doctoral student Harisankar Namasivayam traveled to Washington, D.C., with a delegation of physicists to brief national policymakers on the importance of fundamental science and, in particular, elementary particle physics.
Namasivayam got the opportunity when he was chosen as one of the top presenters in the Young Physicist Lightning Round at the 2013 meeting of the U.S. Large Hadron Collider Users Association. At that meeting, Namasivayam presented research that he conducted at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, under the direction of Dr. Joseph Izen, who leads UT Dallas’ high-energy physics research group.
The collider is the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. Scientists use the facility to smash together beams of protons traveling at nearly the speed of light. Detectors pick up the tracks left behind by the debris from the collisions, which Namasivayam and other physicists then analyze to look for clues about the nature of matter. The collider is the site where scientists discovered an important particle called Higgs boson in 2012.
Three undergraduates and five PhD students from UT Dallas have worked at CERN. Namasivayam’s research focuses on the search for dark matter, which can’t be seen directly yet is believed to make up about 27 percent of the universe.
“The trip was quite an experience. I was representing nearly 2,000 scientists in the U.S. who work at the Large Hadron Collider. It was a thrilling feeling.”
“The LHC, the Higgs boson discovery, and the hunt for dark matter, supersymmetry and micro black holes are motivating today’s young scientists as the race to the moon did for my generation in the 1960s,” said Izen, a professor of physics.
The USLUA invited Namasivayam and the other presentation winners to join a delegation that also included representatives from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory on a three-day trip to Washington, D.C.
“The trip was quite an experience,” Namasivayam said. “I was representing nearly 2,000 scientists in the U.S. who work at the Large Hadron Collider. It was a thrilling feeling.”
Namasivayam had about 20 meetings with officials, including the staffs of Texas congressional members.
“Congressional members and staffs were so welcoming and listened to what I had to say. They were very positive about the agenda the delegation had for fundamental research,” Namasivayam said.
High-Energy Physics Group
The UT Dallas High-Energy Physics Group collaborates on the ATLAS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. ATLAS observes proton collisions at the high-energy frontier, and its data is used to search for evidence of dark matter, among other things.
UT Dallas scientists and students also are contributing to the operation and upgrade of the ATLAS Pixel Detector, the inner-most of ATLAS’ tracking devices.
“Although it was very exhaustive, the meetings were enthusiastic and energetic. I learned how things happen in D.C., and how we can show the public impact of research.”
Izen said Namasivayam’s participation in the delegation was quite an accomplishment.
“Visiting the U.S. Capitol to brief congressional officials and their staffs on the importance of support for fundamental physics to the United States is an incredible lesson for Hari on how our democracy functions,” he said.
Namasivayam’s travel to the USLUA annual meeting was supported in part by an award from the Margie Renfrow Student Support Fund. The fund was established in memory of Renfrow, who was a longtime graduate student advisor in the Department of Physics.