Research Spotlight: Dr. Monaghan

Dr. Peter Monaghan (center), Ralph Marinaro, and Katie Whitcomb

Dr. Peter Monaghan’s research program is based at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab for short) which is a located on Jefferson Avenue, a short distance from campus. JLab is an electron accelerator facility; electrons are accelerated to higher energies and then “shot” at the nucleus of an atom (the “target”) in one of four experimental halls – A, B, C or D. Research performed at JLab is in the field of fundamental nuclear physics – fundamental or pure science as the researchers are studying how protons and neutrons interact within the nucleus, what the building blocks of protons and neutrons are and how those building blocks interact with one another. Dr. Monaghan’s research is based in halls A and C and each experiment at JLab is a multiyear project; from the initial experimental proposal being approved, detectors being constructed, the experiment running and taking data, the data being analyzed to the final journal publications, can take from 5 to 10 years!

One particular project with which Dr. Monaghan is involved is the SuperBigBite Spectrometer (SBS). This is a large magnetic spectrometer which will be used for a series of experiments in hall A at JLab, hopefully, beginning in late 2018. For the last year, Dr. Monaghan has been working on the construction and commissioning of one of the detector systems for SBS – the Coordinate Detector (CDet). This is a scintillator based detector which will provide supplementary particle trajectory data for the SBS experiments. As a charged particle passes through a scintillator, it interacts with the atoms in the scintillator material; the charged particle loses energy in the scintillator which is re-emitted as light in the scintillator. The coordinate detector consists of a total of 2352 scintillator bars, separated into six “modules” each with 392 scintillators. By measuring the light collected in each scintillator, one can determine if a charged particle went through the detector and using the location of that scintillator bar, one can then add to the trajectory information of the charged particle. Naturally, with that many scintillators in one detector, there are a lot of cables connected up to it!

Currently, there are two PCSE students working with Dr. Monaghan – Ralph Marinaro and Katie Whitcomb. Ralph, a current sophomore, majoring in Applied Physics and minoring in Leadership Studies and Mathematics, has been working on the project since the summer and his input is below. Katie is a current junior, double majoring in Applied Physics and Mathematics, and she has recently started training for work at JLab. She has spoken, albeit briefly about her opportunity.

Ralph Marinaro presenting his work

1. How did you decide to take part in student research? How did you begin working with Dr. Monaghan?
“Taking part in student research is not really a decision you make by itself. When you choose a major in any STEM related field, you have already decided to participate in research because research is crucial for an undergraduate student’s development/education, and on a resume in preparation for a future career.

I began working with Dr. Monaghan at the end of my freshmen year. I had applied to many different programs and asked Dr. Monaghan to write some recommendation letters for these programs in regards to my strong academic performance in my physics and math classes. When none of these programs I applied to came through, I informed Dr. Monaghan of this, and, knowing that I was interested in doing research, Dr. Monaghan offered me a position as a student research on the Coordinate Detector Project(C-Det) at Jefferson Labs.”

2. How would you describe your experience? What is your job on the research team or rather what do you spend your time doing?
“My experience over the past year has been extremely educational. I have learned an incredible amount of practical and factual information about nuclear/particle, detector, and accelerator physics that has set a great foundation and will last me for the rest of my life.

I have worked on almost every part of the C-Det Project. In the Summer of 2016, I began preparing, testing, and analyzing individual scintillating bars that comprise the six modules of C-Det in a cosmic ray test setup to establish a solid base of quality control data. I also worked in parallel to this on the construction of the six modules as the individual bar tests slowly came to an end. So far during my sophomore year, I have moved on to working on a half-module data acquisition system and running tests/analysis on modules one half at a time. So in a few words, I work anywhere I am needed relating to constructing, testing, and analyzing the different components of C-Det.”

3. Do you have any advice or comments for others who may want to take part in student research?
“My advice to anyone wanting to participate in research is that the first step is getting good grades. Before you can do anything, you have to prove yourself academically. The second step is letting employers and professors know you are interested/motivated by networking with them. If you do not tell people what you want, then you will never get it.”

1. How did you decide to take part in student research? How did you begin working with Dr. Monaghan?
“I was pursuing a double major at the time and wanted to experience the physics side of research. I approached Dr. Monaghan about research opportunities and he invited me to help with his research at JLab. ”

2. What is your job on the research team or rather what do you spend your time doing?
“I have only recently started training at JLab so currently I am helping polish some of the required components for the experiments and helping with tests and other small tasks with my supervisor when Dr. Monaghan is not present.. I will begin more in depth work with Dr. Monaghan in the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to beginning more work on the project now that I am prepared for work at Jlabs. ”

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