Three FRIB scientific users earn U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science awards

01 July 2020

Three scientists who will perform research at FRIB have received U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC) Early Career Research Program awards.

The program, now in its eleventh year, awards funding to scientists from universities and DOE national labs to help advance their research. Research topics are required to fall within one of the DOE-SC’s major program offices: Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Basic Energy Sciences, Biological and Environmental Research, Fusion Energy Sciences, High Energy Physics, and Nuclear Physics. This year, 76 were selected for the project award. Selection is based on peer review by outside scientific experts.

Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz

Ronald Fernando Garcia Ruiz, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was selected by the Office of Nuclear Physics for his proposal, "Laser Spectroscopy of Exotic Atoms and Molecules Containing Octupole-Deformed Nuclei.”

Garcia Ruiz will perform precision laser spectroscopy measurements of atoms and molecules containing short-lived exotic actinide nuclei, which will be uniquely produced at FRIB. Precision measurements of atoms containing exotic actinide nuclei will provide their nuclear electromagnetic properties (spins, charge radii, magnetic moments, and quadrupole moments). These properties are critical to understand the microscopic and collective structure of octupole deformed nuclei, and will establish important benchmarks for the development of theoretical models. A complementary part of this project will focus on the study of molecules containing exotic actinide isotopes. These molecules are of interest for the study of fundamental symmetries, as their octupole-deformed nuclei produce an enhancement of more than three orders of magnitude for their parity- and time-reversal violating properties.

“Measurements of symmetry-violating nuclear properties could shed light on some of the most pressing questions of modern physics, such as the origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry of our universe, and the properties of dark matter,” said Garcia Ruiz.

Garcia Ruiz earned a bachelor’s degree in physics at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, a master’s degree in physics at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and a PhD in nuclear physics at KU Leuven. He was a research associate at the University of Manchester from 2016-2017 and a research fellow at CERN from 2018-2019. He is currently an assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Kyle Leach

Kyle Leach, an assistant professor of physics at the Colorado School of Mines, was selected by the Office of Nuclear Physics for his proposal, “The BeEST: A Search for keV-Scale Sterile Neutrinos using Superconducting Quantum Sensors.”

Leach is the spokesperson for the BEryllium Electron-capture with Superconducting Tunnel junctions (BeEST) experiment. The collaboration currently consists of twenty-five scientists from five institutions (universities, national laboratories, and industry) across three countries. BeEST will search for sterile neutrinos to understand the microscopic nature of the observed dark matter in the universe. Sterile neutrinos – unlike the active neutrinos in the Standard Model – do not interact with normal matter as they move through space, and are best observed using their mass signature. In this work, complete momentum reconstruction of electron-capture (EC) nuclear decay is employed to perform a search for sterile neutrinos in the keV mass range that is 10,000 times more sensitive than previous experiments.

“The BeEST experiment is an excellent example of inter-disciplinary research that includes scientists in several sub-disciplines of physics from a number of institutions in North America and Europe," said Leach.

Leach earned a PhD at the University of Guelph (Canada) and then accepted a Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at the TRIUMF facility in Canada. He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the Colorado School of Mines. He is head of the Electroweak Interactions (EI) Group, spokesperson for the BeEST Experiment, core faculty in the Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) program, and a member of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Center (NuSEC) at the Colorado School of Mines. 

Alessandro Lovato

Alessandro Lovato, a physicist in Argonne National Laboratory’s Physics division, was selected by the Office of Nuclear Physics for his proposal, “A unified picture of long- and short-range dynamics of atomic nuclei.”

Lovato’s research focuses on aiding domestic nuclear experimental programs by providing a unified theoretical picture of atomic nuclei in terms of the individual interactions among their constituents: protons and neutrons. He is developing novel computational methods, such as artificial neural networks and deep-learning algorithms, in order to probe these interactions. In his research, Lovato develops and uses quantum Monte Carlo methods that are ideally suited for solving the nuclear many-body Schrödinger equation with percent accuracy. The Early Career research projects will leverage Exascale computing resources and machine-learning techniques to extend the applicability of virtually-exact quantum Monte Carlo methods to larger nuclear systems, thereby providing a unified description of short- and long-range dynamics of atomic nuclei.

“Besides nuclear physics, my research will impact our understanding of neutrino-oscillation properties, and will help interpreting gravitational-wave signals,” said Lovato.

Lovato earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in physics at the Sapienza University of Rome, and a PhD in astroparticle physics at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Italy. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Argonne National Laboratory’s Argonne Leadership Computing Facility from 2012-2014. He is currently a physicist at Argonne National Laboratory and a researcher at the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) at the Trento Institute for Fundamental Physics and Applications (TIFPA) in Italy.