Research Spotlight: SMU physicist earns DOE Early Career Award

SMU physicist Pavel NadolskySMU physicist Pavel Nadolsky will receive $750,000 over five years to fund his work in modeling particle interactions through a new program administered by the Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

Nadolsky, assistant professor of theoretical physics in SMU’s Dedman College, received the grant for his integrated analysis of particle interactions created by hadron colliders. He was one of 69 researchers chosen through peer review by scientific experts to participate in the DOE’s new Early Career Research Program. About 1,750 applicants submitted proposals.

Early Career Scientists receive funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in an effort “to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work,” according to a DOE statement.

Nadolsky works with an SMU team of postdoctoral research associates and graduate students to model hypothetical interactions of subatomic particles for the biggest physics experiment in history: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland.

The LHC became fully operational on March 30, 2010, and the high-speed, high-energy particle collisions it creates will allow physicists to recreate conditions at the origin of the universe – and possibly discover the mechanisms that cause particles in space to acquire their differences in mass.

As part of the effort to identify theoretical new particles such as the Higgs boson, Nadolsky develops highly detailed computer simulations both of known particle interactions and of the expected tiny deviations that LHC researchers hope to discover. Each collision produces a staggering amount of raw information, and the most useful bits are few and far between: Out of 40 million events per second, the researchers may be looking for as few as 10 events a year.

“The phenomena we’re looking for will be buried under a lot of known particles produced by ordinary means,” Nadolsky says. “Our task is to produce the most accurate models possible of known interactions, so we can recognize the interactions that deviate, and why.”

Without such models, identifying new events at the LHC would be difficult, if not impossible, he adds.

> Read more from the SMU Research blog

Research Spotlight: SMU receives $5.25 million for geothermal data project

Geothermal map of North AmericaThe Geothermal Laboratory at SMU has been awarded $5.25 million by the U.S. Department of Energy to help provide data for the planned National Geothermal Database.

The grant allocation is part of $338 million in Recovery Act funding that was announced Oct. 29 by DOE Secretary Steven Chu. The funding is intended to help dramatically expand geothermal production in the United States.

Principal investigators are SMU’s David Blackwell, Hamilton Professor of Geothermal Studies, and Fabian Moerchen of Siemens Corporate Research. The project team also includes Jefferson Tester, the Kroll Professor of Chemical Engineering at Cornell University; William Gosnold, chair of Geology and Geological Engineering at the University of North Dakota; Seiichi Nagihara, associate professor of geosciences at Texas Tech University; John Veil, manager of the Water Policy Program at the Argonne National Laboratory and Martin Kay, president of MLKay Technology LLC.

“The primary benefit of this project is that it will support developers of geothermal power plants by decreasing the costs of the resource identification and the risks inherent in the exploration phase,” Blackwell said. “The project will rescue important data from deterioration or complete loss and provide a set of tools to be used by other parties to submit data to the NGDS.”

The SMU Geothermal Lab is hosting its annual conference, “Geothermal Energy Utilization Associated with Oil & Gas Development,” Nov. 3-4 on the Dallas campus. Registration is available at the door. Find more information at the conference web site.

Read more from the SMU Research blog