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NIU student Daniel Boyden wins prestigious research award from U.S. Dept. of Energy

October 5, 2017

Daniel Boyden in a clean room facility at Fermilab.

Daniel Boyden, an NIU student in physics, has won a prestigious graduate student research award from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

The highly competitive award is given to students who have the potential to make important contributions to the mission of the DOE Office of Science. This is the second consecutive year that an NIU physics student has won the award.

Boyden, 27, of Oregon, Illinois, is one of 52 students from across the nation to receive the 2017 award. From November through August, he will receive monthly stipends totaling more than $30,000 to conduct research for his dissertation at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia.

Boyden conducts high energy physics research on Fermilab’s Muon g-2 (pronounced gee-minus-two) experiment, which uses powerful particle accelerators to explore the interactions of short-lived particles known as muons with a strong magnetic field in “empty” space.

Scientists know that even in a vacuum, space is never empty. Instead, it is filled with an invisible sea of virtual particles that—in accordance with the laws of quantum physics—pop in and out of existence for incredibly short moments of time. Scientists can test the presence and nature of these virtual particles with particle beams traveling in a magnetic field.

The experiment could provide new insights into the elementary particles that make up everything, and rewrite scientists’ picture of how the universe works. The project collaboration includes more than 150 scientists representing nine countries.

“My goal would be to make a living working on projects like this,” Boyden said. “I enjoy working on a wide variety of interesting and challenging problems.”

Boyden, who earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from NIU in 2013, is especially grateful to physics professors Yasuo Ito and Mike Eads for encouraging his research interests.

“NIU has provided me with a valuable education and experiences to practice my skills,” he said, adding that he got his first taste of research as an undergraduate, participating in a variety of work in the optics and materials science fields.

“Daniel is a great example of an NIU student who has taken advantage of the opportunities the university has to offer,” said Eads, Boyden’s Ph.D. advisor.

“He was able to work with several faculty members on undergraduate research projects,” Eads added. “When he started as a graduate student, he contributed to a prototype for a next-generation neutrino detector. These experiences allowed him to put together a very compelling and competitive application for the Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Fellowship.”