Four years ago, Fermilab physicist Brendan Casey began looking for a new research project. Should he join the thousands of physicists working on particle collider experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe? Or should he collaborate with a relatively small group of scientists who wanted to build a new physics experiment at Fermilab to search for hidden subatomic forces?
This month, Casey was rewarded for his decision to work on the smaller experiment. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science named Casey a recipient of the 2012 DOE Early Career Research Award. It will support his research on the detector technology for the Muon g-2 experiment with a total of $2.5 million over five years.
“To be chosen is a great honor,” said Casey. “It also is an affirmation that the choice of pursuing the Muon g-2 experiment paid off.”
For this year’s awards, DOE selected 68 researchers from a pool of about 850 applicants based at universities and national laboratories in the United States. Three Fermilab scientists received the award this year: Casey, Tengming Shen and Geralyn “Sam” Zeller.
Casey is one of about 50 people working on the Muon g-2 experiment. The collaboration expects to add scientists from new institutions this June.
“We are recruiting collaborators,” said Casey, who worked on Fermilab’s DZero collider experiment before joining Muon g-2. “With this award, we’ll be able to expand our research efforts.”
The DOE grant will pay for part of Casey’s research efforts, fund a postdoctoral associate, support engineering and technical work and contribute to purchasing equipment for the experiment.
The Muon g-2 collaboration aims to settle a perplexing question that has haunted the particle physics community for more than a decade. Do muons behave as predicted by the highly successful theory known as the Standard Model, or are these particles subject to a mysterious force that changes the particles behavior when exposed to a magnetic field?
Results obtained by a previous muon experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory provided an unexpected but non-conclusive glimpse at the hidden force that might be tugging at the muon, a heavy relative of the electron. But the accelerator at Brookhaven cannot produce enough muons for scientists to make a more precise measurement. Hence scientists turned to Fermilab and its Main Injector accelerator.
Casey, who received a Wilson Fellowship in 2007 and became a Fermilab staff scientist in 2011, focuses on the development of the special particle detector that scientists will use to measure the behavior of the muons in a magnetic field.
“While we will reuse some of the equipment used in the Brookhaven experiment, we will build the particle detectors from scratch,” said Casey.
Casey is collaborating with scientists and students from Boston University, Northwestern University and the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute on developing the experiment’s straw tracking detector, which uses charged wires in long, narrow drift tubes to identify the trajectories of particles.