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Christopher Monahan - Altyre 2001

Monahan is the recipient of the 2013 JSA Postdoctoral Research Grant at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News. He will use the $11,000 grant to study quarks through a new approach - video games.

Building blocks of the universe

Quarks are one of the basic building blocks of the universe. Atoms, which make up almost all of the matter we ordinarily observe, are composed of a heavy nucleus at the center, surrounded by electrons. This nucleus, in turn, is composed of protons and neutrons. And these protons and neutrons are further composed of quarks, tightly bound together. As far as we know, this chain stops here: Quarks are not composed of anything smaller. Essentially, almost all of the stuff we see around us is ultimately built up from quarks.

My research focuses on how we model the behavior of quarks on a computer. The mathematical theory that describes how quarks behave is called Quantum ChromoDynamics. Unfortunately the equations of QCD, which govern how quarks interact with each other - to form, for example, protons and neutrons - cannot be solved directly on a piece of paper; instead we use supercomputers to model QCD - this version is known as lattice QCD. By comparing the predictions from lattice QCD, that is, from computer calculations, with experimental results, such as those undertaken in Hall A and Hall B at Jefferson Lab, we hope to understand more about quarks and QCD. Any discrepancies might hint at the possibility that our current understanding of quarks is incomplete.

This grant will allow me to develop a new method for relating the results from the supercomputer calculations of lattice QCD to experimental results. In particular I would like to develop a more efficient way to extract information about the structure of the proton and how the quarks bind together to form the proton. As part of the grant, I will be supervising a graduate student over the summer, which I hope will provide a good opportunity for a graduate student at the College of William and Mary to gain experience in lattice QCD research and an insight into the Jefferson Lab physics program.

Interest sparked early

I first became interested in physics in high school. I went to a school in Scotland called Gordonstoun, near Elgin, in northeast Scotland. There I had a wonderful physics teacher who inspired me to major in physics. In the UK you have to declare your major before you start your undergraduate degree. I studied physics at the University of Edinburgh and spent a year on exchange at UC Berkeley. I enjoyed that so much I that decided to go on to graduate school. I did my Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, choosing to study particle physics because I was excited by the possibility of gaining a deeper understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe.

Lattice QCD appealed to me, in particular, because I liked the mix of theoretical and computational research that lattice QCD involves.

I moved to Virginia about 18 months ago, to become a postdoctoral research associate at the College of William and Mary. I came here because I was excited by the chance to work with, and learn from, the faculty members at the college and at Jefferson Lab, who are world experts in the study of quarks and proton/neutron structure. I have learned an enormous amount working here.

Solving puzzles

Most of all, I love learning new things. I enjoy the freedom to research what interests me most and to learn about aspects of how the universe works that are so deep and complex. On a day-to-day level, I enjoy solving the small puzzles and problems that accompany physics research, whether that is writing a small bit of code to do a task or solving an equation. I get great satisfaction from putting together all the different pieces of a problem to come to a solution.

I also really enjoy the opportunity to travel, present my work and meet other physicists and gain new ideas and understanding.

Thoughts about grant

I am delighted to have been awarded the JSA Postdoctoral Grant. I would like to thank the Jefferson Science Associates, Hugh Montgomery, Sebastian Kuhn and the User's Group Board of Directors for this opportunity. I'm grateful for all of their support for my research. I'm excited to start on this project and look forward to preliminary results this summer.nib

 

 


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