First student receives Ph.D. under the Indian Institutions and Fermilab Collaboration

Richa Sharma, here standing by the MINOS detector, is the first student to receive her doctorate under the Indian Institutions and Fermilab Collaboration. Photo courtesy of Richa Sharma

Since 2003, Fermilab has been in talks with more than 18 Indian institutions about coming together to collaborate on particle physics experiments. Richa Sharma, a student from Panjab University in India, recently became the first to receive a Ph.D. under the Indian Institutions and Fermilab Collaboration.

The IIFC includes memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between Fermilab and Indian institutions that enable collaborative research on accelerator technologies and neutrino physics.

A major part of these MOUs involves students. The goal is for 20 graduate students from India to complete their thesis projects at Fermilab. Students began arriving at Fermilab in 2011 and have been involved mainly in neutrino experiments, including MINOS, MINOS+, MIPP and NOvA. In the future, they will also work on developing detector technologies for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment once R&D and construction begins.

Sharma was at Fermilab from January 2010 to December 2013 working on MINOS, a long-baseline neutrino experiment. Her Ph.D. project involved looking for neutrino-to-antineutrino oscillations, a process that violates the Standard Model, currently the most widely accepted explanation of the fundamental building blocks of our universe. During her doctoral studies, she was supervised by Vipin Bhatnagar from Panjab University, Brajesh Choudhary from the University of Delhi and Robert Plunkett at Fermilab.

“A lot of Indian students want to work on particle physics experiments and get a chance to come to Fermilab. Now that we can gain experience working on the experiments, we can bring that knowledge back to India,” said Sharma, who is now back in India and looking for a faculty position to teach and continue her research.

India has big ambitions for the future, such as the development of the India Based Neutrino Observatory. Researchers hope to achieve this through collaborations on international particle physics experiments where scientists can conduct high-energy physics research. The hope is that students participating in experiments at Fermilab under IIFC will return to India and take on faculty and research positions to help build this infrastructure.

“It’s quite exciting to see the program supporting so many students,” said Fermilab’s Shekhar Mishra, who spearheaded the effort to develop this collaboration.

Diana Kwon