Fermilab researcher Cristian Peña receives Fulbright award

MINERvA researcher Cristian Peña, in front of the MINERvA experiment. Photo: Reidar Hahn.

Cristian Peña, a research scholar on MINERvA from Santa Maria University in Valparaiso, Chile, has received the prestigious Fulbright scholarship for international studies.

The Fulbright scholarship is intended to increase mutual understanding between individuals in the United States and those from other countries. Each year, it is awarded to 1,800 foreign students for graduate study in the United States.

“I’m really excited,” Peña said. “I thought the possibilities were low, so I was surprised. The Fulbright will help a lot in my intention to go to graduate school here.”

Peña, who completed the Chilean equivalent of a master’s degree in electrical engineering in January 2009, already had an extensive amount of international research experience when he applied for the scholarship. While a student in Chile, he worked for Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, creating simulations to help researchers detect faint signals in the Two Photon Exchange experiment.

In August, Peña had the opportunity to bring his simulation-creating experience to Fermilab. He is one of the first two students from Santa Maria University ever to work at Fermilab. Peña currently studies how the MINERvA detector analyzes subatomic particles known as pions under the direction of Fermilab scientist Jorge Morfin. Peña also works on creating software to increase the efficiency with which MINERvA data is recorded and accessed. With this software now implemented, files that used to take 90 minutes to read now take only 15 seconds.

“He immediately jumped into challenging work,” Morfin said. “You have to be very clever to work on these problems. He’s a bright person, and I’m happy to see he’s doing so well.”

Peña is currently applying to Ph.D. programs. He hopes to attend a university with a strong presence at MINERvA.

William Brooks, a professor at Santa Maria University who works on MINERvA, said that Peña would have a significant head start compared to most graduate students if he stays with the cutting-edge experiment.

“I have a great deal of confidence that Cristian will be a big success in graduate school and quickly demonstrate leadership in the field,” Brooks said.

– Sara Reardon