Friday, June 13, 2014

Undergraduate Research Experience at the Duke University's Free Electron Laser Laboratory

Even Meekins, a junior physics major in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at JMU, took part recently in a 7-day nuclear astrophysics experiment that was successfully performed at the Free Electron Laser Laboratory located on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Evan is part of  Dr. Adriana Banu's nuclear astrophysics research group here at JMU. Early this year Dr. Banu was funded by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement for her proposed research that aims to contribute to enhancing the current state of fundamental knowledge on a forefront topic in nuclear astrophysics - the nucleosynthesis beyond iron of the rarest stable isotopes in the cosmos, the so-called p-nuclei. More specifically, the research project is focused on constraining the origin of the p-nuclei by measuring key astrophysical photonuclear reaction cross sections with quasi-monochromatic photon beams at Duke University's High Intensity Gamma-ray Source (HIGS) facility, currently the most intense accelerator-driven gamma-ray source in the world.

Evan Meekins and Dr. Adriana Banu during their recent experiment at the Duke University's HIGS facility

Working at HIGS - Evan Meekins in his own words:
"While I love the physics department at JMU, especially the array of materials the physics department has for the students to experiment, the HIGS and TUNL facilities at Duke University are truly awe-inspiring. Being able to experience, albeit only analyzing the data, equipment and electronics that could create high energy photons and evaluate many, if not all, of the possible characteristics of said photons, along with any reactions that they might produce. I also greatly enjoyed the staff working at HIGS; they were very knowledgeable about the physics behind each aspect of the experiment, as well as friendly and interpersonal.  The experiment itself required a good amount of work, in setting up the equipment properly, collecting the data, and analyzing the data, but was all extremely intellectually fulfilling.  I left the HIGS facility feeling greatly more confident in both my ability to perform experimental physics and my understanding of the fundamental physics behind the experiment. I would greatly recommend any physics student to participate in an upper-level experiment, and would cite the HIGS facility at Duke University as a great place to start."