- Number 375 |
- November 5, 2012
Fermilab’s Raaf: a hands-on neutrino physicist
Fermilab's Jennifer Raaf.
As a teenager, Jennifer Raaf’s scientific curiosity led her to blow apart ping-pong balls to find out which method would yield the loudest pop. Today, her specialty is to assemble and install neutrino detectors at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and analyze data from neutrino experiments in the United States and Japan – tasks that involve construction rather than destruction.
“I don’t get to blow stuff up anymore, but it’s still fun,” she said with a laugh.
Raaf co-manages the assembly of the largest neutrino detector of its kind ever to be constructed in the United States. The detector, called a time projection chamber, will serve one of Fermilab’s new neutrino experiments, MicroBooNE. The experiment will investigate how neutrinos interact with matter and advance the time projection chamber technology, which is central to the proposed, 100 times larger detector of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment. Raaf helps with the planning for the LBNE project.
When Raaf arrived at Fermilab in March 2011, the MicroBooNE detector was nothing more than a collection of individual parts. With Raaf’s planning and administration, she and her team have nearly finished erecting the skeleton of the detector, which will weigh about five tons and rival a school bus in size. The MicroBooNE team will then insert the detector into a cryostat and fill it with 170 tons of liquid argon to record and analyze particle tracks created by neutrino interactions.
MicroBooNE is Raaf’s fifth neutrino experiment. As part of her physics graduate thesis at the University of Cincinnati, Raaf examined samples of different types of mineral oil for the MiniBooNE neutrino experiment, MicroBooNE’s predecessor, which used mineral oil instead of liquid argon to monitor neutrino interactions.
Upon receiving her doctorate, Raaf took a postdoctoral research position at Boston University. She helped revamp the Japanese Super-Kamiokande neutrino experiment, which is well known for the pioneering observation of cosmic neutrinos using a detector filled with 50,000 tons of ultra-pure water. She is still a member of the Super-K collaboration and continues to analyze data from the experiment.
For Raaf, the experience of building particle physics experiments is as important as analyzing their data. It is one of the main reasons why she prefers to do research at a national laboratory.“I wanted to work at a national lab because that’s typically the place where these large particle physics experiments are being built,” she said. “I know every part of the detector I’m working on, and I really enjoy that level of familiarity.” – by Jessica Orwig
Submitted by DOE's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory