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$1.9M DOE grant will support training of accelerator scientists

December 2, 2019

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded a $1.9 million grant to Northern Illinois University and the Illinois Institute of Technology for the training of next-generation workers in accelerator science and technology.

The funding will support select qualified graduate students in physics and engineering.

Philippe Piot and Michael Syphers

Physics professors Michael Syphers and Philippe Piot, both experts in particle accelerator research and technology, are leading the effort at NIU. The university’s share of the DOE funding will amount to about $975,000 over the next five years.

Particle accelerators use electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds contained within in beams. The cathode ray tube found in old television sets, for example, served as a particle accelerator.

Today’s accelerators, however, can be much more sophisticated. Accelerators are used in scientific research, including exploration of the sub-atomic universe, and increasingly in medical and industrial applications. Tens of millions of hospital patients receive accelerator-based diagnoses and therapy each year.

The DOE grant comes in response to increasing demand for accelerator scientists. Syphers said NIU and IIT are uniquely positioned to offer the training. Both universities attract diverse students from the Chicago area, have faculty who conduct research in particle and beam physics and are within short driving distances of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.

The universities are already beginning to recruit students for their new program, known as the Chicagoland Accelerator Science Traineeship.

The program will cover student tuition costs for two years and fund paid research assistantships at Fermilab and Argonne.

Distributed between the two schools, up to six students will be accepted into the program for the coming spring semester, and over the five-year funding course, about 24 students are expected participate, split roughly equally between NIU and IIT. Ideal candidates will be seeking a master’s degree in physics or engineering.

“It’s a great opportunity for students in physics or engineering who have an interest in accelerator science,” Syphers said. “There’s an ever growing demand for people in the field.”

The training program will have an operational component with students working on projects at the federal labs, as well as relevant graduate coursework.

NIU is developing two special courses for the program, while a new course at IIT will focus on professional development. Additionally, students will a attend seminars and meetings with potential lab research advisers at Fermilab and Argonne and be provided funding to attend the U.S. Particle Accelerator School.

NIU’s Department of Physics has a long history of faculty and student research in the areas of particle-beam physics, particle accelerators technology and high-energy physics. In addition to collaborating with the world’s premier accelerator laboratories, NIU is home to the Northern Illinois Center for Accelerator and Detector Development.

For more information on the Chicagoland Accelerator Science Traineeship, visit the program website. Interested students can also contact Michael Syphers at [email protected] or Philippe Piot at [email protected].