A nuclear physics kind of reaction

Los Alamos internship energizes CMU student’s research interests

​For nine weeks this summer, Central Michigan University senior Jacob Davison spent eight hours a day, five days a week at Los Alamos National Laboratory learning more about the evolution of elements within the universe.

Los Alamos is the iconic nuclear research laboratory located 35 minutes northwest of Sante Fe, New Mexico, that focuses on developing and applying science and technology to address emerging challenges related to nuclear weapons, energy and national security.

"I feel like I received on-the-job training in research," the physics major from Kalamazoo said about his nine-week internship. "The best part was meeting the scientists who are conducting such important research at a national laboratory. I guess I was hoping some of their genius would rub off on me."

The internship offered Davison opportunities to experience and better understand research and experimentation processes. It also encouraged him to look further into the prospects of pursuing a graduate school and a career in nuclear physics research. Davison said such a field connects all of his areas of interest, including physics, math and computer science.

Davison explained that the idea was to use the simulation to verify whether real detectors would perform as expected. He simulated a silicon detector and said that as a particle hits the silicon, it knocks electrons off atoms inside the silicon. This induces a current that can be measured.

"Studying nuclear reactions is the best way to learn how the elements evolved in the cosmos, and my work is just one of many techniques for studying nuclear reactions in great detail and with fine precision," Davison said.

Related research continues on campus

CMU Associate Physics Professor Georgios Perdikakis had coordinated the student internship with his nuclear physics collaborator Hye Young Lee, who is a researcher at Los Alamos. Lee served as Davison's mentor and helped him to finish the summer with a simulation that successfully modeled a physical environment."

"I felt relieved," Davison said. "Seeing it all come together two days before the internship ended was so rewarding."

Through the internship program, Davison also learned skills that are applicable to CMU lead research he is conducting as a member of the research group of Perdikakis. His expertise will be applied in upcoming CMU experiments at Los Alamos, and at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University. Perdikakis said creating such research opportunities for his students benefits everyone in the field.

"Because of our collaborations and connections with other researchers, we are able to have CMU students work with them to do useful and meaningful research," he said. "One of the things I consider as a role of the faculty is to make sure we show the next generation of physicists what's out there for them."

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Dan Digmann