“This whole environment, which is one big learning tank to discover more about particle physics, has been one of the most thought–provoking experiences I’ve ever had in my education,” says URECA (Undergraduate Research & Creative Activities) summer researcher Gregory Matousek ’20.
A physics major in the Honors College, Gregory has had the opportunity this summer to participate in full-time immersive research in particle physics. He works under the direction of Dr. Abhay Deshpande and Dr. Nils Feege on a simulation study that explores the feasibility of measuring a heavy quark composite particle called the J/Psi, which is made of Charm and Anti-Charm quarks.
“By learning about modelling and also learning how a research team actually operates, and how they actually discover new information, you learn so much more than you can from a class,” Greg says. “There’s always something to learn every single day.”
Greg initially joined the Deshpande particle physics research group in spring 2017, and has already gained experience on building /testing hardware for G.E.M. Detectors and for Magnetic Cloaking. He also worked on software simulation projects for detector analysis and particle collision simulations on Cherenkov detectors, and is currently focused on the EIC experiment simulations.
Greg is involved as a peer tutor for various introductory physics courses at the Academic Success Tutoring Center and Residential Tutoring Centers. His hobbies include Rubik’s Cube speed solving, chess, basketball and coding.
Read excerpts from his interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director:
Tell me about your research project.
So we’re researching the particle identification capabilities of the proposed Electron Ion Collider Experiment. Specifically what I’m focusing on is the study and detection of the vector meson J/psi which consists of Charm and Anti-Charm quarks. In the Deeply Virtual Meson Production process, you have your electron and proton scattering off one another and a meson is produced which has two quarks. In a detector experiment, the J/Psi has a whole array of decay products. In fact, we don’t technically measure or find a J/Psi in a collision, we are only able to identify its creation by analyzing its decay. One of its decays, an electron positron pair, can be detected easily in the detectors we’re simulating. Other decay products that are produced may not be able to be so easily detected (such as through muons which are much harder to detect). So in this specific study we’re producing a J/Psi and we can actually detect the J/Psi ‘s decay. Knowing that a J/psi was created helps us learn more about the partons inside of the proton.
How long have you been working on this project?
On this specific project, less than two months. But I’ve been working with the group since February of 2017. In the group I’ve had the opportunity on hardware-related projects, such as working with G.E.M. Detectors and working with Magnetic Cloak. Right now what I’m primarily focused on are the simulations. So I have gained both hardware/hands-on experience plus experience in doing software simulations.
What have you learned from doing research that you wouldn’t have learned from your classes alone?
I learned about protons and electrons, as many of us do starting in high school physics. But going even deeper to seeing how those flesh out and how those interact with another on a really fundamental level, what’s inside a proton, how do those things inside of a proton interact with one another—it’s actually really cool! You essentially learn about the macroscopic physics world in your early physics classes; but by being involved in this research, coupled with new classes I’ll be taking, you learn more about more fundamental, more microscopic particles such as quarks and gluons.
Also, by learning about modelling and also learning how a research team actually operates, and how they actually discover new information, you learn so much more than you can from a class. Just the organizational skills I’m learning with my research group have improved my whole academic experience. I’m now a lot more organized now after working with the group; and I understand scientific papers a lot quicker now because I’m understanding the vocabulary, the nuances.
Do you enjoy the overall research group atmosphere?
It’s a very nice environment. I really like working with my research group! We’re researching and learning together as a group rather than being focused on any one individual project. We like to keep bouncing ideas off of one another and work toward one goal, together. My mentors, Dr. Deshpande and Dr. Feege also help a lot in expanding our knowledge. They’re great at describing things in a way that I can understand or in a way that engages us, and they always make sure we’re working together as a team. We all meet in the Physics building every day at 10 am and we have a brief meeting to talk about what we’re doing for the week, what are the issues going forward, what we did the previous day….it’s extremely helpful.
What is it that you enjoy most about the research?
I think it’s that there’s always something to learn every single day. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think, I know so little; there’s so much I don’t know. But at the same time, I want to search out and learn more. This whole environment which is engaging everyone in my group, enveloping everyone into this one big learning tank to discover more about particle physics has been one of the most thought–provoking experiences I’ve ever had in my education.