2,000 Ph.D.s earned from Fermilab research

Fermilab recently passed a milestone of 2,000 Ph.D. theses published based on research conducted at the laboratory. The first of these theses was published nearly 40 years ago. Photo: Sarah Witman

Fermilab recently observed an outstanding achievement: 2,000 Ph.D.s awarded based on research conducted at the lab during its decades-long history. Since 1974, at least 2,015 students have received Ph.D.s based on research conducted at Fermilab.

Carl Bromberg, now a physics professor at Michigan State University, was among the very first. His 1974 thesis, “Hadron Production in Proton-Proton Interactions at 102-GeV/c and 405-GeV/c,” was Fermilab’s third Ph.D. publication on record. The title alone tells a story of how the lab has changed since Bromberg’s graduate school days: Back then, not only was the lab’s Main Ring accelerator operating, it had also just begun to test the waters of energy usage at 100 billion electronvolts (GeV) — a scant amount when one considers the Tevatron, as it was called later, would eventually reach energies of up to a trillion electronvolts.

“The accelerator was very new,” Bromberg said. “In fact, I was at the lab when the accelerator reached 100 GeV for the first time.” He was also there when, less than a month later, the accelerator reached 200 GeV.

Bromberg and other experimenters sent beam from the Main Ring into a 30-inch bubble chamber.

“We characterized those interactions and looked for anything strange, because this was the first 100-GeV beam that had ever been produced in the world. So something strange and unusual could happen,” he said, adding that they saw an increase in the number of particles created.

Bromberg’s thesis concluded that the extra particles seemed to be spread out in energy rather than clustered at high or low energies. He’s had the opportunity to see other physicists build upon the observation of this phenomenon for many years since.

This summer, University of Florida graduate and Argonne postdoc Joe Grange was in a cluster of Ph.D.s whose theses were published around the 2,000th-paper benchmark.

Grange’s publication, called “First Measurement of the Muon Anti-Neutrino Charged Current Quasi-Elastic Double-Differential Cross-Section,” dealt with neutrino oscillations. Grange used a low-energy neutrino beam to search for instances of this strange quantum-mechanical process, as well as to identify the probability for a neutrino to interact with another material. This type of experiment, while common from the early 2000s onward, was just a distant dream at Fermilab’s birth.

“It’s pretty cool to be one of roughly 2,000 theses to come through this place,” Grange said. “So many of these theses were crucial to the development of our current understanding of particle physics.”

In a way, Ph.D. theses represent the constant evolution of scientific understanding, he said; they serve to both contribute to and document its progress. Grange feels surpassing the 2,000 Ph.D. mark makes a statement about the lab’s educational value.

“It definitely says that Fermilab has a long, rich history of being at the forefront of producing really good physics and really taking a lead in high-energy physics education at the highest levels,” Grange said. “It’s an honor to be in a long list of things accomplished here at Fermilab and be part of the future here as well.”

Sarah Witman