FRIB graduate students shine with award-winning posters at particle accelerator conferences

Graduate students conduct thesis research at national labs through Accelerator Science and Engineering Traineeship opportunities

Two Michigan State University (MSU) graduate students with FRIB’s Accelerator Science and Engineering Traineeship (ASET) program won separate awards for their posters at North American and international particle accelerator conferences last summer. Through ASET, both students are now conducting thesis research at national laboratories.

Madison Howard

Madison Howard, a third-year physics graduate student and part of the beam instrumentation and diagnostics group at FRIB, won a bronze award for best poster at the North American Particle Accelerator Conference (NAPAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Howard’s most recent work has focused on diode physics and emission physics. Her winning poster, titled “Studying the Emission Characteristics of Field Emission Cathodes with Various Geometries,” showed preliminary results from evaluating different field emission cathodes across varying pulse lengths. The team study is ongoing at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where she currently is doing her thesis work.

“Getting the bronze award gave me a large sense of pride,” said Howard. “It felt very rewarding to be recognized for the hard work that we have put into this project.”

She credits ASET for helping her land at the national laboratory. “If it wasn't for this program, I wouldn't have known about the opportunities at LANL,” she said. “Not only did ASET give me this opportunity at LANL, but the courses and the professors that are part of the program have given me the tools I need to succeed.”

“Madison’s poster and research on high-current, high-emissivity cathode materials is providing a basis for quantifying the beam quality extracted from these materials,” said FRIB Beam Instrumentation and Measurements Department Manager Steve Lidia, who is Howard’s adviser. “She has produced initial, high-quality work that deserved the bronze award. She brings an experimentalist’s perspective to her work and enjoys reducing complicated activities to the essentials needed for better understanding. This promotes the ASET program with our partner laboratories and forges stronger relationships to build the next generation technical workforce.”

After completing their PhD studies, both students would like to continue conducting research at a national laboratory. Gonzalez-Ortiz plans to continue to his research in accelerator science, while Howard wants to continue working with emission physics and electron injectors.

Cristhian Gonzalez-Ortiz

Fourth-year physics graduate student Cristhian Gonzalez-Ortiz was awarded the best student poster prize at the 2022 International Particle Accelerator Conference (IPAC) in Bangkok, Thailand. His poster, “Third-order Resonance Compensation at the FNAL Recycler Ring,” showed how a specific combination of sextupole magnets can suppress dangerous resonances occurring in circular accelerators under certain operational conditions.

Gonzalez-Ortiz began working on suppression of resonances at FRIB in 2021 before moving his work to the accelerator complex at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL) in Illinois last August.

He said he is gratified have had his work recognized at IPAC, especially after working through a global pandemic. “Winning this award meant a lot to me, not only because it acknowledges my own hard work, but it also recognizes the hard work of MSU faculty and staff and their support of their grad students,” he said.

Gonzalez-Ortiz is also enrolled in the ASET program. “ASET placed me at Fermilab and gave me the opportunity to work with world-class experts at a national laboratory. I've gained relevant skills and made important connections in the accelerator physics field,” he said.

“Cristhian is a highly motivated graduate student to work on thesis research in the most challenging accelerator physics tasks,” said adviser and FRIB Associate Director for Accelerator Physics Peter Ostroumov, who is Gonzalez-Ortiz’s adviser. “Being an ASET student, he had the opportunity to evaluate possible thesis topics, including research areas covered by national laboratories. Cristhian’s poster at the conference was evaluated by top world experts in accelerator science. The IPAC award is very prestigious in the accelerator community.”

About the Accelerator Science and Engineering Traineeship program

Part of MSU’s top-ranked nuclear physics graduate program, ASET offers a unique training opportunity to PhD and master’s graduate students in accelerator physics and accelerator engineering, and places them in national laboratories for further training and thesis research. Partnering academic programs at MSU include the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the College of Engineering.

The ASET program leverages unique campus-based equipment, systems, and experts at FRIB; extensive ASET faculty and research supports in several MSU academic programs; and collaboration resources at national laboratories including Brookhaven National Laboratory, FNAL, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, LANL, and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The program supports graduate students in their studies for up to two years.

Offering a unique training opportunity for master’s and PhD students in physics, astronomy, and engineering, FRIB’s ASET program’s mission is to recruit students, provide training in accelerator science and engineering, and place them in national laboratories for further training and thesis research.

ASET students are trained and mentored by more than 20 MSU faculty members in addition to more than 30 PhD scientists and engineers working in ASET areas at FRIB.

Interested students may apply for the ASET program through the appropriate academic department at the following application sites:

Michigan State University (MSU) operates the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) as a user facility for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC), supporting the mission of the DOE-SC Office of Nuclear Physics. Hosting what is designed to be the most powerful heavy-ion accelerator, FRIB enables scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions and applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security and industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of today’s most pressing challenges. For more information, visit