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Brookhaven National Lab researchers chosen as 2016 APS Fellows

The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Lab helps scientists like blank and blank to do blank BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY/FLICKR VIA CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Lab helps scientists like Peter Petreczky and Michiko make strides in the field of physics. BROOKHAVEN NATIONAL LABORATORY/FLICKR VIA CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The American Physical Society, or APS, elected two scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2016 APS fellows.

Peter Petreczky and Michiko Minty were among the nearly 300 researchers and scientists honored in the 2016 nomination process.

“It’s a recognition by your peers throughout the United States that the work you’ve done is impactful as it has been seen and known about outside of your immediate circle of colleges,” Minty, who works in accelerator physics, said.

This recognition is not given just any member of the APS. Fellows are nominated by their peers and are elected by society members across the United States for their outstanding research, leadership or service in physics, Minty said. Only about half a percent of the organization are elected fellows.

“It’s an honor, certainly,” Petreczky, who works in nuclear physics theory, said. “It implies the work I do is important for the community.”

Both scientists’ work benefits the lab’s relativistic heavy ion collider research, which involves colliding protons near the speed of light. However, neither Petreczky nor Minty run experiments directly with the machine.

Petreczky was recognized for his contributions to the understanding of color screening and quarkonium properties in the quark-gluon plasma or how the contents of protons behave after two protons are collided, according to the APS. This is something that piqued Petreczky’s interest early in his career.

“When I started, I just came across the problem [color screening in quark-gluon plasma] as a graduate student,” he explained, “It was very confusing.”

Physicists had an understanding of how the phenomenon of color screening worked in usual plasmas but not in quark-gluon plasmas, which are made from colliding two protons together at high velocity, which is what the relativistic heavy ion collider (RHIC) does.

“We knew how this phenomenon of electric screening worked in usual plasma, but when we tried to apply it to quark-gluon plasma, it didn’t work at all,” he said. “It’s still an evolving story. In the future it will lead to a real understanding of the different aspects of quark-gluon plasma.”

Minty’s contributions to the lab also benefit RHIC’s functions.

“I’m the head of the instrumentations systems group, which is to a large degree a support group for the activities of the collider accelerator department,” she said.

Minty and her team develop instruments that are used to record and measure the properties of the charged particle beams that are accelerated at Brookhaven National Lab. Her team monitors the performance of the beams and changes the characteristics of the beams.

“We use the measurements as input to large scale feedback systems to automate the operations of the facilities,” she said.

Before she arrived at Brookhaven, some of the functions to alter beam properties at the RHIC were being done manually, but Minty and her team worked to automate many of the feedback systems.

“By automating through these feedback systems, you higher the precision and efficiency of operation, which means that what used to take many weeks can be done in fewer weeks,” she said.

That automation helps to save about two to three weeks of calibration time a year on the RHIC, which equates to almost $1 million saved.

“The effort needed for the feedback systems development involved primarily the work that had been done by others over a decade of design and a decade of construction, operations and engineering,” Minty explained, adding the process was difficult for an accelerator that was already constructed and in operation.

“We’re controlling the position of the particles to a fraction of a width of a human hair,” Minty explained. “These are beams that are moving around at the speed of light.”

Having two APS fellows at Brookhaven is nothing new. Minty and Petreckzy join over 100 other fellows named from Brookhaven.

“Almost every year we have at least two, sometimes even more, people from Brookhaven that have this honor,” Petreckzy said. “Overall compared to other research institutions, Brookhaven is among the top.”

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