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Researcher of the Month
Physics major, Honors College, Class of 2015
Research Mentors: Dr. Abhay Deshpande, Dr. Nils Feege, Dr. Klaus Dehmelt, Department of Physics & Astronomy
Ben Coe is a junior in the Honors College, majoring in Physics in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Ben’s first independent research project at Stony Brook took place in Summer 2010,
as a high school participant in the Simons Summer Research program where he worked
in the Laser Teaching Center under the direction of Dr. John Noé, on “Creating a demonstration liquid mirror telescope.” It required a record player, plastic gardening pots, and black ink. [More here>>]
Since January 2013, Ben has been engaged on the development & design of a magnetic cloaking device for accelerator-based nuclear physics experiments, working with Dr. Abhay Deshpande, Dr. Nils Feege and Dr. Klaus Dehmelt in the Department of Physics & Astronomy. This project requires different materials (superconducting and ferromagnetic layers) than the summer project he carried out 3 years ago — but is likewise moved forward by a deep curiosity about fundamental laws of physics. Ben reflects: “The potential impact of the work I think is really exciting: that we can see into these regions that we’ve never been able to see at this speed and work to pin down our theories of how things work. …That is the most exhilarating--the fact that we’re looking to uncover fundamental laws of nature that we’re not quite sure of yet. And that’s really cool.”
Ben had the opportunity to share his excitement about the project just recently at the American Physical Society-Division of Nuclear Physics Meeting in Newport News, Virginia (October 23-26) where he presented “A Compact Magnetic Cloaking Device for Future Collider Experiments.” Ben first presented this work at URECA’s campus-wide poster session last April, and then this past summer at a RHIC/AGS Users' Meeting in June.
Ben Coe graduated from Oneonta High School in June 2011—and took a number of advanced math and physics classes in his senior year of high school at The Clarkson School to prepare for his undergraduate major. He is grateful for the many enrichment experiences he had in his early years, including Kopernik Observatoryand Johns Hopkins CTY programs. With his current research endeavors, Ben hopes to be well prepared to do a senior honors thesis in physics next year; further in the future, he plans to do graduate study leading to a Ph.D in physics. Ben's hobbies include playing guitar and martial arts. Below are excerpts of his conversation with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen. I understand you just came back from the American Physical Society (APS) Meeting. Was this your first off-campus presentation?
Ben. Over the summer, in June, I presented a poster at the RHIC and AGS users' meeting at Brookhaven. But this was the first meeting I’d gone to on this scale. It’s been a phenomenal experience and I’ve learned a so much. There’s so much new information that was introduced to me that I’m still processing … I learned a lot more about nuclear physics. There were so many sub micro-fields that I didn’t even know existed. And I met a lot of awesome people, and found out about some exciting graduate programs. It was a really great experience.
I remember that you had presented a poster last spring at URECA.
Yes, that was the first time that I had presented this project and that was a really great experience. I got to explain the ideas to a lot of people and in the run-up to it, I learned a bunch about the real motivation behind it, why we care, and how to explain it to someone who might not be an accelerator physicist. . . . URECA is a really awesome event. It was an informal atmosphere where I could have a nice discussion about my project with someone. From doing this, I learned about where I needed to be more clear, and what specifically I needed to work on to make my project more understandable. Those 3-4 hours of practice in talking about my project proved to be useful when I presented later at Brookhaven, and then just recently at the APS meeting in Virginia.
Tell me about your project.
It’s a little tricky to describe without pictures but I’ll give it a shot. We’re looking to upgrade our facility to do electron ion collisions as part of the Electron-Ion-Collider (EIC) collaboration between physicists at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Jefferson Laboratory, and elsewhere. Basically, our goal is to measure and record as much of the debris from ion collisions as we can; the reason we want to do this is because we want to see what’s there. This requires a uniform magnetic field close to the collider’s beam pipe. If there is a magnetic field inside the beam pipe, it will interfere with the charged particle (colliding) beam, and prevent the collision from occurring as you would like it to. So what we need is a strong homogenous magnetic field outside of the beam pipe and a region of no field in the beam pipe. The traditional way to do this is by wrapping the beam pipe in a superconductor and then, via the Meisner effect, the superconductor will expel the dipole magnetic field and keep the incoming beam free of magnetic field. However this creates perturbations and inconsistencies in the field outside of the beam pipe and introduces significant error into the measurements…
Our solution is to combine this superconducting layer with a ferromagnetic layer also around the beam pipe. If you have the ferromagnetic cylinder inside of a homogenous dipole field, it pulls the magnetic field lines in and concentrates the magnetic field-- which is precisely the opposite of what a superconductor does. And what you end up with is a cloak that is reasonably thin that is surrounded by a perfectly straight homogenous magnetic field on the outside and allows no magnetic field on the inside. That’s the gist of it. And with our proposed magnetic shield, we hope to be able to measure and track any particles pretty well and to still preserve the beam and its polarity. My research group has been developing this idea: running simulations to see how we could accomplish building this and if it will actually work as we hope; then designing the actual prototype to demonstrate that it works; and finally, building the prototype.
How long have you been working on this?
I joined the group back in January when the project was in its early stages. I’ve been working with one of the post docs Nils Feege, and with Prof. Deshpande. The idea came from a paper that was published just last year … We saw one potential application and decided to develop it, to conceptualize a fully functional large magnetic cloak that would be useful for QCD studies. So over the last 10 months, we’ve been simulating and bringing it closer towards prototype developing.
When you presented at APS, what was the general reaction?
People seemed really interested and excited about the project. There were some questions about other potential applications. There is some thought in the medical community that it could be useful in radiation therapy in conjunction with an MRI machine. The project could also be particularly useful for a group at Jefferson labs because of their beam set up …We’ve been only working on the project for less than a year and it’s really exciting to see the ideas and applications that are being generated.
How did you get first get involved in research?
I had worked with Dr. John Noé in the Laser Teaching Center as a high school student in the Simons Summer Research program. It was an excellent program. I learned a lot and really enjoyed it.
My Simons project in the optics lab was to design, build and image with a liquid mirror telescope — which is a really neat idea that hinges on the fact that if you take a cylinder of liquid and spin it with basic Newtonian mechanics, you can see that the top of the water forms a parabolic shape which is perfect for telescopes. So to make a liquid mirror telescope, you take a basin and spin it nicely (I used a record player and a flower pot and water with black ink)—and you have a nice telescope mirror which is cheap and pretty effective. I used it to image a picture on the ceiling. That was absolutely my first experience with any sort of independent research.
And how did you get involved with your current project?
As an undergraduate here, I went in to Professor Deshpande, told him I would like to do research, asked him for direction …..and ended up in his group. It worked out pretty well for me, just jumping into this project that he told me about.
Tell me about the group.
There’s myself and the post doc, a master’s student and several undergraduates … we’re all working together. We have meetings every Friday. We all present what we’ve been working on and where we’re planning on going. We’re all up to date on what every else is doing and what’s going on in the group, and what we want to do to move forward. If someone needs help— or if I need help figuring out how a simulation works—everyone else is more than willing to help.
Was there a steep learning curve, when you first joined the group?
The first few weeks when I was sitting in on meetings, I would observe what was going on and I would have to look up terms, and learn more about the collisions. But it really didn’t take long and everyone was very helpful. I had an interesting experience over the summer too working with COMSOL—this finite element analysis software. It solves partial differential equations over a 3D model. And I spent a good amount of time over the summer forcing that to work with superconductors, learning about how computers solve partial differential equations, and thus learning about how the analysis of differential equations works. When I entered the group, no one had used it much before so I worked through it a lot on my own. And now, I’m sort of considered the resident COMSOL expert in the group which is cool. So if anyone needs things simulated, they come to me and I can help them work it out. COMPSOL isn’t really equipped to handle superconductors. But I learned a bunch about it, about how to adapt it for what we’re doing, and it was a fulfilling experience.
Does your experience in doing research complement your coursework in physics?
This semester, I’m taking applied real world analysis which is using differential equations to solve heat equation, or the wave equation, or other sorts of things. And it turns out that what I learned all in the summer, by working with COMSOL, has beenextremely helpful. All the exact same ideas are coming up. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t realize that my physics research would help with math courses that I take later on, but that’s cool. All the research I’ve done has definitely solidified a lot of physics and math concepts that I’m gathering are very important in the physics world.
What are your future plans?
Long term, my plan is a PhD in physics. I’m still exploring different areas of experimental and theoretical physics, different sub fields of physics. There’s still a lot out there that I don’t know.
What advice do you have for other physics major?
Get involved! It’s super helpful-and there are so many exciting projects. In my experience, faculty aren’t necessarily looking for undergrads but they’re not put off by an undergrad asking to do research either. They’re open to the idea. You have nothing to lose by asking about research opportunities.
Were you encouraged to do science from your earliest years?
I was encouraged to explore things (not necessarily just science) and to learn. I read a lot. When my parents were looking for ways to challenge me academically—they found out about the Kopernik Observatory and Space Education Center in Vestal NY and I went to a bunch of summer camps there and did geology, astronomy, physics, different math programs, biology, chemistry. And then in high school, I interned there giving telescope tours, and basic observational astronomy. After that I went to Clarkson University for a year in Potsdam–instead of my senior year of high school –and took physics 1 and 2, Calcs 1,2,3, & 4 while I was up there. So I was well versed in basic math and physics when I got here and started taking upper level courses.
What made you decide to SB?
It was partly based on having on that summer experience through the Simons program. I knew a lot of good research was happening here. And I knew about the excellent facilities at Brookhaven National Lab. And I appreciated that as a state school, my college education wasn’t going to cost me too much. It’s really worked out for me. I’m ecstatic to be at Stony Brook, and in the Honors College. It’s done amazing things for me.
What is it that you most like about doing research?
With this particular research, there’s a very clear end goal in mind. We know exactly where we’re going. We sort of know how to get there. It’s been great learning about all sorts of different things, and seeing the process through. I’ve gone from learning basic simulations to actually building the thing. Every step of the way I learn all sorts of new things that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know which is great. We’re hoping that we have a reasonable prototype and can run a reasonable experiment by the winter…
The potential impact of the work I think is really exciting: that we can see into these regions that we’ve never been able to see at this speed and work to pin down our theories of how things work. This fundamental physics is really exciting. That is the most exhilarating— the fact that we’re looking to uncover fundamental laws of nature that we’re not quite sure of yet. And that’s really cool.