Fun, Physics, and Sunburn

Summer is a time for fun, physics, and sunburn. The summer I have had here in Gettysburg, PA has encompassed all three of those perfect aspects. My usual weekday starts at 6:30AM going to the gym. This has been a practice that I established during the school year and have not broken yet. My roommates, did I mention I lived with 8 girls?, even started joining me to go over and work out together.

After the gym I come home, push through the exhaustion and soreness, and make myself breakfast. In true Gettysburg fashion, I don’t just settle for pop tarts for breakfast. No, I make myself eggs-over-easy with peppers and onions, and occasionally bacon. Mmmmm, bacon. What makes my breakfast even more special is that I purchase the eggs from a local farmers market that is held every Wednesday. The eggs are farm fresh, usually gathered the day before purchase.

After my morning routine, I make my way over to work. This summer I had the pleasure of working with Prof. Bret Crawford as my mentor. The research field that we focused on is nuclear physics; specifically the weak nuclear force. This was done by working with a computer simulation of an experiment that is occurring at the National Institute of Science and Technology(NIST). The experiment at NIST is composed of a slow neutron beam that is used to study neutron-neutron weak interaction. This is done by first polarizing the neutron beam by using a super mirror polarizer. This aligns all of the neutrons along the y-axis. The beam then enters a target chamber that is filled with liquid He. Through the weak interaction between the neutron and the He nuclei, the helicity states of the polarized neutrons begin to shift out of phase due to the parity violation of the weak force. This difference in phase, causes the neutrons to almost corkscrew in their rotation. By measuring this parity-violating corkscrew, insight can be obtained into light nuclei interactions and the strength of the weak interaction.

My specific contribution to the project is that I created another aspect of the code that simulates the last aspect of the experiment, an ion chamber. The ion chamber is filled with gaseous 3He that collects the neutrons as it goes through it. The chamber is split into four sections along the beam direction; by breaking the chamber into sections, the neutrons can be collected by energy because the higher the energy of the neutron, the deeper the neutron will travel into the detector. This part of the simulation can, and is, being used to determine how much 3He the ion chamber should be filled with. The goal would be to have equal detection in all four sections while having minimal loss of neutrons out the back and sides of the detector. Also, the simulation can be used to study the spectra of the neutrons that are collected in each section by using the computer program PAW. By studying the the theoretical spectra of each section, more can be learned about the energy spectrum of the beam itself. So basically, using this simulation we can run the entire experiment with 10^6 neutrons in 10 seconds, never leave my chair, and learn so much about how changing one parameter of the experiment may change the actual experiment.


Spectra of collected neutrons in the four sections of ion chamber

Figure 1. Spectra of collected neutrons in the four sections of the Ion Chamber


After work, I tend to go home and have a small snack to help refresh me from my day. I then go over to the college’s tennis courts and play tennis with a group of friends that are also on campus. There is nothing better than to go outside and be active after a long day of sitting in front of a computer. This summer I learned how to serve overhand and I “obtained” an acceptable backhand. After tennis I usually end my day by cooking dinner. My favorite way to make dinner is grilling it. Usually chicken breasts, but when I’m feeling a bit more excitement in my life, I’ll buy and grill a New York strip steak. Corn on the cob, cooked on the grill is probably my favorite side.

On the weekends, the Gettysburg area has proven to have plenty to do. Some weekends are spent just around campus or exploring the battlefields. Others are spent exploring the surrounding area. A day trip to a lake in Pine Grove Furnace State park showed me that you do not need to be by a beach to bury your feet in sand and burn in the sun. All of the fun, and everything that I have learned has made this summer one that I will never forget.


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