As long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the universe; I had already decided when I was very young that I wanted to be an astronomer. The idea that we can describe and predict the behavior of the universe using only mathematics is remarkable to me.
I now study particle astrophysics, which encompasses the study of particles that reach the Earth from the Galaxy and beyond. Much of my research revolves around experimental detection of these particles as they reach the Earth. I have been involved in the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) experiment, as well as the Cosmic Ray Electron Synchrotron Telescope (CREST). These experiments were designed to measure some of the highest energy particles in the universe, with hopes that they can tell us more about the structure of the Galaxy and the processes happening in some of the most energetic events in the universe.
Both CREST and CREAM were carried aboard large helium balloons up to altitudes of more than 120,000 feet. This allows the detectors to reach above most of the atmosphere, and allows us to measure cosmic rays before they interact with the molecules making up the atmosphere. These balloons were flown from McMurdo Station in Antarctica, where the sun shines 24 hours a day in the summer. I have twice spent shifts in Antarctica as part of the instrument recovery team for both CREAM and CREST. It is an amazing place, and yes, I did see penguins!
Recently I have been working with students on the construction of a small cloud chamber to visually detect cosmic rays, which I hope to be able to use for public demonstrations and as a student research platform. The cloud chamber is an older type of particle detector that allows us to visually detect any charged particle that passes through the chamber.
When teaching, I like to focus on conceptualization and problem solving. This tends to include the examination of a lot of popular culture to see how accurately the media portrays physics; I try very hard to keep my class active and fun. I think that the most important take away from a physics class should be the ability to approach problems analytically, and apply basic physical laws to come to a solution.
In my free time I enjoy sports and games of all kinds. I play as much basketball as I can, (you can probably find me at the RFC playing ball at lunchtime during the week) and play a lot of video and board games as well. I’ve recently taken these interests and designed a course that explains how physics is involved in my favorite sports and games (Physics 104: Physics of Sports & Games).
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S. Seo, E., et al. (CREAM Collaboration) "Approaching the Spectral Knee in High Energy Cosmic Rays with CREAM." Journal of the Physical Society of Japan 78.Suppl. A (2009): 63-67.
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Gettel, S.J.; Geske, M.T.; McKay, T.A. A Catalog of 1022 Bright Contact Binary Stars (2006) Astronomical Journal 131, 621