A look back at the 3rd Annual International Particle Accelerator Conference

In the late spring of 2012, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending an annual international conference held in New Orleans, Louisiana. The International Particle Accelerator Conference (IPAC) was established in 2010 to join together the world’s largest organizations working on topics pertaining to particle accelerator technologies and applications. Among them includes CERN, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, IEEE, and countless national laboratories, physical societies, and accelerator facilities around the globe.

Conference poster for the 3rd annual International Particle Accelerator Conference held in New Orleans, LA, USA.

It was here that I was given the opportunity to showcase my research as well as get acquainted to the research of fellow scientists in the field. There were over 2000 participants in all. I ran into old professors and advisers, friends, and colleagues I met along the journey. I presented on the compact radio frequency accelerating structure that I built at the Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter (message me if you are interested in reading the paper). To the best of my knowledge, it the the most compact accelerating structure of its kind in current literature. Overall is the wonderful, humbling, and empowering experience for a young scholar. On the flight back to Indiana, still buzzing with excitement, all I can think of how I can keep pushing and contribute further to the accelerator physics community. I hope you’ll one day get to experience the same.

The Ernest N. Morial Conference Center setting up for IPAC 2012. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

Both researchers and vendors prepare their booths for IPAC 2012. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

The conference’s opening ceremony. Somewhere in the crowd I am sitting, absorbing the experience. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

The conference included both oral presentations and poster sessions. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

There is a coffee break between every scheduled session. This is where we grab a pick-me-up and chat. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

The billboards to the left are for research posters that rotates between specialized topics for every given day. Researchers, including myself, typically stand by their poster to answer questions. All conference proceedings must be be accompanied by a journal quality 3-page report. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

All the big vendors like Agilent and Tektronix were there to showcase their latest and greatest gadgets. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

In copper, a beautifully machined radio frequency quadrupole structure. And in Niobium, encased in glass, sits a superconducting radio frequency structure. Photo by Alfonse N. Pham.

It is conference tradition to pass on the ceremonial bell to each successive conference chair. The chairperson for this year’s conference is Victor Suller, the associate director of the CAMD facility at LSU. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

Victor would chime the bell giving the participants a 5-minute warning that the next session is about to commence. It was hilariously like herding cows. Photo by Victor G. Ramirez.

“Networking” with some fellow colleagues on Bourbon St. Photo by Alfonse N. Pham.

And oh, did I mention seafood? Cajan spiced deep-fried oysters with blue cheese. Photo by Cara S. Maffini.

Seafood! Soft-shell crab eggs benedict. Photo by Alfonse N. Pham.

SEAFOOD!!! In retrospect though, all-you-can-eat crawfish wasn’t a great idea after a long night of “networking.”

No NOLA trip is complete without a visit to the Cafe Du Monde. Photo by Alfonse N. Pham.

Iced coffee and sugar-coated beignets. Photo by Alfonse N. Pham.

A Physicists Perspective: School Rankings

There are just a dizzying collective of listings ranking colleges and universities nationwide: the U.S. News and World Reports, the Princeton Review, and the Huffington Post just to name a few. And when confronted as a prospective graduate student preparing to apply to these colleges and universities, which one of these, sometimes wildly varying, catalogs of rankings should be deemed valid in determining the course of one’s future. Now I cannot speak with any authority on how these ranking systems affect the determination of prospective graduate programs in other fields, especially in the social sciences and humanities, but I can only give you an honest critique from the point-of-view of an aspiring physicist.

Yay, college! Photo by U.S. News and World Reports.

I would like to just get this immediately out on the table and out of my system. It is in my most honest and humble opinion that every one these ranking systems harbor, to varying degrees, a sense of elitism and educational exclusivity that hardly congruent with the goals of promoting the betterment of society through the education of its citizens. Year after year only the most exclusive private institutions, whose population and alumnus comprise of a very narrow segment of our country’s socioeconomic makeup, are allowed to grace the top ten positions on their list. Aside from that one year where they ranked U. C. Berkeley 2nd after Harvard. That sure pissed off a lot of people. Opps, never again. Perhaps they are on to something though, maybe only selected few of the wealthiest and politically elite are bestowed from on high the ability to contribute to the vast pond that is human knowledge. Or perhaps hot smoke is being directed to orifices unknown, but I digress.

As a young scientist in the final year of my graduate studies looking back, I see the ranking systems as a humorous and utter waste of time for someone who is looking to pursue an advance degree in physics. Each ranking system impose their own arbitrary metrics to formulate a sequence of school they deem worthy of holding a position on their prestigious list. Some even include scientific funding information and academic productivity measured by scholarly articles published into their metric. Interesting as they are, they still fall short of a reliable source of academic guidance for the future. Here are a few points and recommendation I would like to share from my experiences as a researcher in the physical sciences:

– In the current stages of your graduate school application process you should have at least three individuals who are familiar with your intended field of study. Be it a mentor, a laboratory principle investigator, or the people who are writing your letter of recommendations. Take them out for coffee and tap into their pool of knowledge. They know A LOT!

– Whether one is a theorist or experimentalist, physics is still a research focused discipline and should be what you look for in a graduate institution. A simple internet search will enlighten you on the current research happening at the institution and whether or not it interest you. Unsure of your interest? Talk to the professors and researchers at your undergraduate institution. You’ll be surprised by how willing they are to share their experiences with you.

– The number of facility in the department exploring similar questions gives you a sense of the institution’s specialty. Make sure this is congruent with your own goals as these will be the people you’ll work with in the future. The larger the group, the more selective you can be on who you work with.

– Some schools have dedicated research facilities. For example, Indiana University has the Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter (formerly the IUCF) which is home to scientists working in the fields of nuclear physics, material sciences, physical chemistry, accelerator physics, and neutrino physics. These facility provide a vast amount of resources and support for young researchers. It is one of the key reasons why I came to Indiana University.

An aerial photo, circa 1980s, of the Indiana University Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter (IU CEEM) and formerly known as the Indiana University Cyclotron Facility (IUCF). Photo by IUCF Staff.

The front desk upon entering ISAT Hall. Photo by Maggie Ochoada.

– Lastly, look for big projects that are going on at the institution as well funded project are the best place for a graduate student to get hands-on experience working in the field. For example, Indiana University has a joint project with the Crane Navel Surface Warfare Center called ALPHA which is a low energy electron storage ring used in radiation effects testing. I came to Indiana knowing that this specific project will offer me great opportunities to learn and grow.

The ALPHA 50 MeV Electron Storage Ring at IU CEEM. Image by Jak Doskow.

Before I depart, I would like to share with you an inscription that is on the main auditorium walls of my alma mater, “Education is learning to use the tools which the human race has found indispensable.” May we go forth to learn and grow so that one day we may humbly contribute to the betterment of our communities, societies, and beyond.


And just like that…

Summer has come to an end.

The life of a graduate student works a little backward at times. As Bloomington steadily diminishes in undergraduate student population and opens her roadways for effortless commutes, she officially marks the beginning of summer. The warm summer’s breeze buzzes with plans of imminent adventures and excursions to distant worlds or perhaps just coming home. In celebration, I took a day off to relax and prepare for the fleeting sabbatical ahead.

You see, like elves, fairies, and leprechauns, summers are these mystical, almost dreamlike spans of time where one can focus intimately on his/her research uninterrupted by the rigors of classwork and burdens of teaching responsibilities –and grading, mindless and soul-numbing grading. The sheer joys of temporary liberation is well apparent on the faces of most faculty members as they happily work in their offices waiting to be bothered by graduate students armed with endless questions, I am sure. Despite the long hours on experiments commissioning the new particle accelerator and the preparation for an article to be published at the next International Particle Accelerator Conference held in New Orleans, I still made time for a little fun.

It is typical in our field to see close friends and colleagues in the department relocate to national and international laboratories for research. Recently, one of our good friends, Manny, moved to the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia to work on the GlueX Experiment. Certainly this gave us good justification to explore the Midwest before Manny departs. As the old adage goes, “In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is strength, but whiskey is the water of life.” The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was the next adventure on our list, I’ll just let the photos tell the stories.

This was the most stationary photo I’ve found of our crazy tour guide who gave us a fine tour of the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Devil’s cut and Angels’ share fills the dark damped air as we descended deeper into the aging lair. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Some of the finest bourbon Buffalo Trace Distillery produces. Photo taken by Alfonse.

At the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Our tour guide was much tamer this time. Photo taken by Alfonse.

All bourbons are required by law to be aged in new charred American white oak barrels. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Got schooled on a little bourbon history. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Our final stop of the day, the Four Roses Distillery with one of the department’s finest in frame. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Four Roses was built remarkably like a particle accelerator, I felt just right at home. Photo taken by Alfonse.

Hardware, oh glorious hardware. Photo taken by Alfonse.

We made a pretty good sized dent in the list of “things to do in the Midwest” this summer and great memories were made. Our own graduate traditions dictates that no summer is complete without a boat party in Lake Monroe, so thus we forge ahead cutting through the clear waters in our rickety rental pontoon yet again. Until next time.

Proof: 25 graduate students + boat + lake = one hell of a time. Q.E.D. That seemed a proper thing to say with two very mathematically inclined minds, center frame, discussing their ideas as the boat was en route to our favorite destination. Photo taken by Sunny Nigam.