Researcher of the Month
Majors: Physics, Applied Math, Women in Science & Engineering (WISE) program, Class of 2021
Research Mentor: Current: Dr. Milind Diwan, Dr. Andrea Scarpelli, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Electronic Detector Group; Previous: Dr. Joanna Kiryluk, Dr. Aiwu Zhang, Physics & Astronomy
“Eventually, I really want to work at a national lab. … I really wish to not only
be a part of these international collaborations and big Experiments, but also to find
my own path in terms of mentoring and outreach opportunities.
I really wish to include minorities and people who look like me more into this field. “ – Amelia Camino
Amelia Camino thoroughly enjoys the collaborative, international research environment of Dr. Milind Diwan’s group at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL)—a team she joined initially as a participant in BNL’s Science & Learning Internship (SULI) program in summer '19. Her continuing work with this group was funded in 2020 through the LSAMP- NASA New York Space Grant Research Award. One of the group’s current projects is the calibration and analysis of the photo sensor system for the ICARUS neutrino detector, a liquid argon time projection chamber (LArTPC) which detects neutrinos from the Booster Neutrino Beam as part of the Short Baseline Neutrino (SBN) experiment at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Amelia’s role focuses on characterizing the electronic response of the photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) in the ICARUS detector at room temperature by performing detailed statistical fits to charge distributions in order to obtain the intensity of the light pulses, the PMT gain as a function of voltage, and preliminary measurement of their dark rate. Amelia has also participated in the OEP Mini-semester program at BNL. Long-term, Amelia intends to pursue a PhD in particle physics, and aspires to work in a national laboratory.
Amelia is a senior double-majoring in Physics, and Applied Math & Statistics; and is a member of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) honors program, the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), and an advisory board member of CSTEP. She cites her early exposure to research through the WISE high school program, and through the INSPIRE/Include New Students through a Peer Introduction to Research Experience peer mentoring initiative which she participated in during freshman year, as being pivotal factors for her involvement in STEM research; building on this foundation, Amelia participated in the 2018 PSEG-Explorations in STEM program, a 10 week summer research program co-administered by the Career Center and URECA ( PI: Dr. Monica Bugallo, Electrical and Computer Engineering, WISE) where Amelia gained valuable experience working with Dr. Joanna Kiryluk (Physics & Astronomy Dept.) to analyze data of high energy neutrino-nucleon interactions observed by IceCube Neutrino Detector.
Through her research experiences, Amelia has developed strong programming and analytical skills, and has since presented at multiple research symposia, both on and off-campus. She won first place in the “Math, Physics, and Computer Science” category for her poster presentation at the 2019 CSTEP Statewide Student Conference on “IceCube Artificial Light Source (Flasher) Data Reconstruction.” Recently, she presented “ Development of Calibration Analysis for the Scintillation system in the ICARUS LAr Neutrino Detector“ at the 2020 virtual summer symposium. For Amelia, any opportunity to present is welcome: “ I think it's a really cool opportunity for science to have a place where I can communicate how excited I am about my work to others and that whole kind of challenge of getting you to be really interested in what I am really interested in.”
On campus, Amelia has served as a peer mentor and/or tutor through WISE, CSTEP, and the Peer Academic Success Coaching Program (PASC). She has served as a Teaching Assistant for Applied Mathematics & Statistics, and is a member of the Society of Physics Students (SPS). She also is a WISE student volunteer for 3Diatrics, a Stony Brook University student club who aim to become leaders in compassionate innovation and improve the patient experience, and worked with iCreate to make 3D-printed toys and create goodie bags for children in the Stony Brook Hospital.
Amelia graduated in 2017 from Comsewogue HS in Port Jefferson Station, NY. Her hobbies include: running/hiking, playing video games, and longboarding. Below are excerpts of her interview with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.
Karen : Tell me about your research at BNL. What is the ICARUS project all about?
Amelia: So ICARUS stands for the Imaging Cosmic And Rare Underground Signals (ICARUS) neutrino detector. Basically it's a liquid argon time production chamber which is just a fancy word for a detector that detects neutrinos. It’s part of the Short Baseline Neutrino (SBN) experiment that's located at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago. The goal is to study the oscillation of neutrinos to observe a fourth flavor of neutrinos which is completely different and would set it apart from the three basically standard models. ICARUS uses the time production chamber, as I mentioned, and so during the SULI program, I worked on the photon detection system. That's an array of around 360 photomultiplier tubes (PMT) or light detection sensors, and they're used for precise timing of the neutrino interaction and the reduction of background coming in from cosmic rays.
Now, I am looking to study the dark rates, or intrinsic amount of noise that each photomultiplier tub has, at the cryogenic temperature of 87 K for the ICARUS T600 scintillation light detection system. Since this quantity depends on the temperature, in cryogenic temperatures, it is particularly difficult to measure because of the intense amount of scintillation signals from other sources. I am currently working to develop a simulation, which entails removing effectively most of the scintillation counts and leave only darkrate; which I will then consider comparing with data taken from the same PMTs in vacuum at room temperature and hope to present this work as my senior thesis.
And when did you start doing working on this project?
I participated in the SULI program at BNL in summer 2019, and at that time, I worked with two other undergraduate students to look for the characterization and calibration of these photomultiplier tubes, because ICARUS was then being commissioned. Our project involved setting up the detector and basically doing all the pre project work before actually taking data. Now we've moved on into the first stages of taking data, which is really exciting. And so my project has evolved with the actual detector itself. Now, we're more so looking at how to calibrate the entire system versus just look at specifics of the PMTs or these detection signals.
How do you like working at BNL?
It's super fun! Unfortunately, right now we're working virtually (because of COVID) and I can't physically be in the lab. But when I was in the SULI program, it was really cool to just be around all the scientists on campus. They would literally have open doors … and it really made me feel like I wanted to be a part of that community. There’s that whole camaraderie— especially over the summer, students were encouraged to attend presentations, seek out lectures in different disciplines, or just simply ask a scientist, “Hey, could you explain to me a little bit about what you're doing?” Just being in this kind of environment specified for promoting science was extremely inspiring.
Dr. Milind Diwan, my mentor, as well as the Electronic Detector Group at BNL have all been valuable contacts… because ICARUS is an international collaboration involving postdocs, technicians, engineers, and scientists who are from all over the world, I got to work with people all over the USA and from Italy and Mexico. Coming from a background of being bilingual, and also being the child of immigrants, it's been really cool to find out how the scientists bring in their culture into their work. So being in this kind of atmosphere has definitely made me feel that I want to be a part of this community, and I want to add to that, too.
Were you able to still be productive working on your project remotely this summer?
Yes, and virtual learning actually gave me a new facet of learning because the SULI program in summer 2020 still took place, and there was an influx of new students coming into the collaboration had that had never worked before at BNL. Since I was one of two resident students (having participating in SULI previously), I grew really close to this year’s group of students as we would all regularly hold meetings to discuss their questions on the detector, presentations, or how to speak to some of the scientists in the collaboration. I got to not only practice communicating within a group setting and my leadership skills this summer, but I also grew my network and gained some friends in the same field. It was a great experience.
How were you previously involved in research on campus?
I was actually involved as a high school student through WISE. I did some rotations in research, ranging from neurobiology to marine science to civil engineering. Through that, I figured out, “Wow. Science is kind of for me. “ Then in my freshman year, I got into the INSPIRE mentoring program, and was paired up with Ann Lin, who was a big help in just giving me a little bit of edge in terms of background. She helped me learn how to read a scientific journal or paper (that was completely new to me!), how to write my personal statement and research plans, and I even got to do a little work in Dr. Balazsi’s lab (BME) where Ann was, and get some background in physical and quantitative biology. Then in the spring semester of my freshman year, I applied to the Exploration in STEM program, which gave me the opportunity to do physics research in the summer after freshman year—working with Dr. Joanna Kiryluk on the Ice Cube experiment.
And how did that initial research experience — working on the IceCube neutrino experiment with Dr. Kiryluk —prepare you for the work that you later did at BNL?
So my work with IceCube was mainly quantitative and computational. And without really knowing it at the time, it gave me a really good background into this whole field, learning about electronics and photon detectors and light detector sources. So it really prepared me for accelerator science and Particle physics. When I initially came into Dr Kiryluk’s group, basically, I had no background whatsoever in computing and programming languages. And she taught me from scratch Python, Linux, Unix--all of these languages that I would then build upon through these projects. Now I know ROOT. I know C++ …and a little bit of FORTRAN, C, plus other sprinkles of computer languages here and there …but it was Dr. Kiryluk who really gave me the first steps to working with programming languages. Apart from that, she also showed me how to make a poster, write an abstract, and communicate effectively in my field. That was really important too.
What value does research add to your overall educational experience?
I think that research really solidified my path in physics without me really realizing it. The independence that it gave me to discover my own passions by being hands on, that really provided an outlet for me to showcase myself and it gave me a kind of an exciting feeling that I don't have to only be confined into one area. One of the things I really like about the research that I do at BNL is that it's interdisciplinary as well as collaborative. So within the electronic detector group, there are engineers, computer scientists, scientists who focus on policy, and physicists…and I have been lucky enough to be thrown in the middle. That's really given me the freedom to explore what interests me by speaking to scientists and delving deeper into various concepts or topics.
Doing physics research also was a big factor in my adding on the AMS double major. I knew that I was going to be in a computational heavy field, and I definitely wanted to feel prepared and so I took those extra classes and coursework that was relevant so that I would be able to have that basis for my research.
What are your future plans?
My future plans are to graduate and then go on to grad school for a PhD in Particle physics. I’m also applying for a few post graduate fellowships, working with the External Fellowships office here. Eventually, I really want to work at a national lab. … I wish to not only to be a part of these international collaborations and big Experiments, but also to find my own path in terms of mentoring and outreach opportunities. I really wish to include minorities and people who look like me more into this field. And I think with an eventual position or career in a national lab, I'll be able to reach a wider variety of students.
When you first came to Stony Brook, did you know for sure you were going to go into physics?
Not really. I applied to physics, kind of on a whim, in terms of the fact that I took AP Physics in high school and did well. And so I thought it might be a natural progression for me to major in physics in college. It really took a lot of myself to figure out whether this was definitely the right path for me. … I would go to a colloquium at the physics department. I would try to attend all the lectures that I could because I just really wanted to know: where I could fit in all of this… And that's why I think representation is so important to me because it really took seeing those kind of role models for me to actually feel like, Wow, OK, I can really do this and I want to work really hard to be able to achieve this.
Have you had experiences at Stony Brook that have solidified your own desire to be a mentor and do outreach?
So, with CSTEP I serve on the advisory board which means I help to design workshops that directly help students..: I've been a peer mentor since sophomore year, and with WISE, I also am a mentor to a group of five freshmen. I’m also planning to be an INSPIRE mentor this year as a senior—something I benefitted from greatly as a freshman. These experiences have definitely sharpened my communication, teaching, and technical skill, and have given me a sense of confidence, purpose, and fulfillment. Although it’s kind of scary at first, I’ve learned the best way to mentor is to treat every encounter as a meeting of equals and listen for them to let you know how best to help.
Have you enjoyed the peer-mentoring interactions you’ve had while working on external scholarships through the Office of external scholarships?
Very much so. And I think is one of the best lessons that I've had this summer and also for my undergraduate career is learning how to receive feedback. Across the board, I've had to not only communicate my ideas or what I think accurately and effectively in group settings, but I've also learned to how to take people's remarks and use them to improve my skills, work product, and relationships.
What advice about research would you give to incoming students at Stony Brook?
I would say that starting out is the hardest part. So it’s important to keep in mind that no one really expects you to know everything when you are starting out. There's always a learning curve. And there's always going to be a gap in your knowledge. But I think you should be proactive, and take the approach of being able to ask for help and not be afraid to say “I need some more guidance” or “I need some more literature to read because I am confused of this topic, etc.”
Also, I think that your experiences, whether it be your undergraduate courses or a research experience, are really what you make of them. It's not only about compiling data or meeting a deadline, but it's more so about a holistic approach to it. So what I mean by that is …that through all these experiences, I've encountered so many powerful figures who have showed me that basically asking for help and being an advocate for myself has really gone a long way. I think self- advocacy is definitely the most important skill that you can learn as a student. Growing your network is really about being upfront and real. It’s important to talk about your personal life, apart from just your work. It's really about being mentored as a person, alongside the research or the career.
I know you’ve had several opportunities to present—at URECA, and through summer programs, including Explorations in STEM and SULI. Do you enjoy presenting the research?
Yes, I do. And I even went on for CSTEP to go into the statewide conference and I won first place in that for the poster competition. So yes, I definitely really do enjoy it. I think it's a really cool opportunity for science to have a place where I can communicate how excited I am about my work to others and that whole kind of challenge of getting you to be really interested in what I am really interested in …I've grown to really value that and love it!