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NIU Ph.D. student lands prestigious DOE research award

May 10, 2021

A.J. Dick

A.J. Dick, an NIU student pursuing his doctorate in physics, has won a prestigious graduate student research award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The DOE announced recently that Dick is among 78 students from across the nation to be selected for its Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program.

The research projects proposed by the new awardees demonstrate strong alignment with the priority mission areas of the DOE Office of Science. Selection was based on merit peer review by external scientific experts.

Through world-class training and access to state-of-the-art facilities and resources at DOE National Laboratories, the SCGSR program prepares graduate students to enter jobs of critical importance to the DOE mission and secures the nation’s position at the forefront of discovery and innovation.

“DOE has long been where the nation turns for scientific solutions to complex challenges, and now more than ever we need to invest in a diverse, talented pipeline of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who can continue this legacy of excellence,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said. “I’m thrilled that these outstanding students will help us tackle mission-critical research at our labs, and I can’t wait to see what their futures hold.”

Dick, who will conduct his research in the field of accelerator and beam physics at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, becomes the sixth NIU program awardee over the past five years. Through the program, he is eligible to receive traveling expenses and a monthly stipend of up to $3,000 for general living expenses during his one-year award period, which begins June 14.

“I’m most excited at just being able to work at Fermilab in a full-time capacity,” Dick said. “The award will give me hands-on experience while I’m working on my Ph.D.”

The 25-year-old Indianapolis native said he chose to do his graduate work in physics at NIU because of the university’s near proximity to two DOE national laboratories, Fermilab and Argonne National Laboratory. NIU physicists, engineers and students regularly collaborate with the laboratories, and the university’s physics department has a highly regarded program in accelerator and particle-beam physics.

At Fermilab, Dick will work at the Integrable Optics Test Accelerator (IOTA), a storage ring roughly 40 meters in circumference designed for testing advanced accelerator physics concepts. Storage rings are types of accelerators that can keep particle beams circulating for many hours. Dick will conduct research with Jonathan Jarvis, a Peoples fellow and associate scientist at Fermilab, on a new beam-manipulation method known as “optical stochastic cooling.”

“The bigger accelerators that scientists use to collide particles have bunches of beams that circulate at one time,” Dick explains. “Beams become less intense and expand as they travel—you might think of it like the cone of light from a flashlight, which gets dimmer as it gets bigger. The particle colliders work better if you compress the beams, increasing the intensity. We’re working to get the particle beams as small and bright as possible.”

Dick’s work has been previously supported by the National Science Foundation’s Center for Bright Beams based at Cornell University.

Phillipe Piot

“I am delighted A.J. is receiving one of the SCGSR awards,” said NIU Physics Professor Philippe Piot, Dick’s advisor. “He is a deserving student with a broad set of skills, ranging from working on hands-on projects to performing numerical and theoretical investigations using advanced simulation tools on large-scale computing clusters. The SCGSR program will provide A.J. with access to a unique facility and interaction with experts in the field of accelerator science.”

Dick said he is particularly interested in the nonlinear dynamics, or the study of systems that might appear chaotic, unpredictable or counterintuitive but behave in a way that not random. Such systems are important in almost every branch of science, from meteorology to beam physics.

“It’s kind of like a puzzle that I get to work on, as opposed to more classical physics,” Dick said. He hopes to earn his NIU Ph.D. in the spring of 2023.