A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

European Physical Society honors young physicists for work at Fermilab, SLAC

07/20/09

Today, two up-and-coming physicists, Maurizio Pierini and Niki Saoulidou, receive the prestigious Young Physicist Prize from the European Physical Society. Both honed their experimental physics skills working at national laboratories in the United States: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

They both have joined the CMS experiment at the European laboratory CERN, but they will continue to have a strong US connection: the United States is the largest collaborator on CMS and Fermilab has a remote operations center that directly connects US scientists with their colleagues at CERN.

Read the stories on Pierini and Saoulidou and their research below.

Flavor physics work at BaBar leads to EPS award

Maurizio Pierini was an experimentalist on the BaBar experiment at SLAC when a new idea about how to detect asymmetry in rare B meson decays caught his attention.

Maurizio Pierini

Maurizio Pierini

It could point to new physics beyond the Standard Model.

"But experimentally it was very difficult. People thought it was not possible," Pierini says. "But my theorist colleague in Rome was interested."

Fellow student researchers Amir Farbin and Wouter Hulsbergen decided to test the idea and Pierini soon joined them. The duo worked alone for quite awhile, learning how to extrapolate the B meson decay point from short-lived kaons, even when the particle path was not fully visible - a possible new way to look for new physics.  Slowly others saw the potential in the decay channel study and joined the research.

"At the end, we had five or six different analyses done that people had thought were impossible," Pierini says.

That risk-taking and foresight to embrace a research philosophy that melded theory and experimentalism helped earn Pierini, 32, one of two high-energy particle physics 2009 Young Physicists Prizes awarded by the European Physical Society. He will receive his award for outstanding research and his contributions to the study and analysis of B mesons today at the EPS conference in Krakow.

An Italian native, Pierini was studying at the University of Rome and then at the University of Wisconsin-Madison while working on BaBar. He now works on CMS at CERN as a Fellow.

"Maurizio is a remarkable young physicist talented both in experimental particle physics, particularly data analysis, and in interpretation of the data," says Abolhassan Jawahery, a University of Maryland physics professor and former BaBar spokesman. "In BaBar, he was deeply involved in the search for physics beyond the Standard Model using rare B meson decays. "

In addition to working on data analysis, Pierini worked on up keep for the muon chamber and rebuilding and commissioning the end cap.

He says that his greatest advantage has come from learning to look at physics through the eyes of both theorists and experimentalists.

"You have a better way of organizing your research line because you can see both sides and talk to both sides," he says. "As an experimentalist, you have a clear theory in your mind of what parameters you want to measure and know what is practically possible, on the other side, theorists can see connections between theories and new search areas."

Neutrino work at Fermilab earns EPS award

Niki Saoulidou is drawn to mysteries; the chance to sort through clues and piece together an answer.

Niki Saoulidou
Niki Saoulidou

Neutrinos, which have been involved in many mysteries and "anomalies" during the past 80 years, were ideal particles for her to study.

"Neutrinos have shown, so far, perhaps the only hints of physics beyond the Standard Model," she said. "No one expected how they behave a few years ago, and the hope is that they continue to surprise us in the years to come."

Saoulidou, 34, born and raised in Athens, Greece, has immersed herself in neutrino research from detector construction to analysis participating at Fermilab neutrino experiments since her graduate school days at the University of Athens, where she received her PhD in 2003.

That breadth and depth of her experience, coupled with a passion for her work materializes in animated gestures and twinkling eyes when she talks about research, likely captured the attention of the European Physical Society. They picked her as one of two winners of the high-energy particle physics 2009 Young Physicists Prize. She will receive the award for outstanding neutrino research today at the EPS conference in Krakow.

The small size of neutrino collaborations often allows young physicists to work on varied aspects of research, rather than specialize early in their careers.

Saoulidou got to work on hardware, software and data analysis for the DONUT (E872) and MINOS (E875) experiments at Fermilab. As a member of NOvA (E929) and a future wide-band beam neutrino experiment from Fermilab to DUSEL, she also worked on software, simulation and optimization studies.

"I think Niki was one of the most productive members of the MINOS collaboration, both in putting the hardware together in the Near Detector and in the analysis," said Stan Wojcicki, MINOS spokesman.

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