Jennifer Raaf Fermilab's Raaf: a hands-on neutrino physicist

As a teenager, Jennifer Raaf’s scientific curiosity led her to blow apart ping-pong balls to find out which method would yield the loudest pop. Today, her specialty is to assemble and install neutrino detectors at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and analyze data from neutrino experiments in the United States and Japan – tasks that involve construction rather than destruction.

“I don’t get to blow stuff up anymore, but it’s still fun,” she said with a laugh.

Raaf co-manages the assembly of the largest neutrino detector of its kind ever to be constructed in the United States. The detector, called a time projection chamber, will serve one of Fermilab’s new neutrino experiments, MicroBooNE. The experiment will investigate how neutrinos interact with matter and advance the time projection chamber technology, which is central to the proposed, 100 times larger detector of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment. Raaf helps with the planning for the LBNE project.

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2012-165-8205-METEORITE, Sample of a meteorite that fell over the Sierra Nevada last April, held up by SSRL regular Tom Cahill of the University of California-Davis' DELTA Group. (Photo by Brad Plummer)X-rays probe air, artifacts, meteorites and more

Tom Cahill and his colleagues at the DELTA Group are frequent visitors to DOE's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where they use an intense beam of X-rays from the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource to help them determine detailed lists of the elements found in all sorts of unlikely samples.

Cahill, who capped a long and distinguished career at the University of California-Davis by starting the group in 1997 – three years after he retired – regularly brings samples of particulates found in air from all over the world for analysis. And he’s become an enthusiastic synchrotron booster, convincing other scientists to come to SSRL and making sure they leave with their own lists of ingredients. He assists in analyses of everything from ancient coins to a chunk of the meteorite that flashed across the Sierra Nevada sky in April 2012.

Cahill keeps such a busy schedule that it it's easy to see why his friends and collaborators say he has failed retirement.

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See also…

DOE Pulse
  • Number 375  |
  • November 5, 2012
  • High-tech tools tackle wind farm performance

    NREL's Steve Hammond, director of the Computational Science Center, and Kenny Gruchalla, senior scientist, discuss a 3D model of wind plant aerodynamics that shows low-velocity wakes and the resulting impact on downstream turbines. Credit: Dennis Schroeder From a distance, a wind farm can seem almost placid, turbines turning slowly, steadily, churning out electricity. But there's more to it than meets the eye.

    The wind, though it can seem consistent, often has varying degrees of turbulence that impact wind turbine performance. Heating and cooling change the wind over the course of the day. A wind farm's turbines interact in ways that reduce performance and add to structural loads on the turbines, increasing maintenance costs and the overall cost of wind energy.

    Researchers at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are learning how to better understand these issues and are working toward effective solutions for the wind industry. Their goal is to maximize turbine performance and minimize structural loads, which will ultimately result in lower-cost wind energy. Toward that goal, NREL researchers are leveraging the lab's supercomputing resources and have developed high-tech modeling and simulation capabilities.

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  • Nickelblock: An element's love-hate relationship with battery electrodes

    While manganese (blue) fills out this battery nanoparticle evenly, nickel (green) clumps in certain regions, interfering with the material's smooth operation. Examining battery materials on the nano-scale reveals how nickel forms a physical barrier that appears to impede the shuttling of lithium ions in the battery's electrode, reducing how fast the materials charge and discharge, according to research led by DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Nickel is an essential component of cathode compounds for lithium-ion batteries.  Published in Nano Letters, the research also suggests a way to improve the materials.

    The researchers, led by Dr. Chongmin Wang, created high-resolution 3D images of electrode materials made from lithium-nickel-manganese oxide layered nanoparticles, mapping the individual elements. These maps showed that nickel formed clumps at certain spots in the nanoparticles. A higher magnification view showed the nickel blocking the channels through which lithium ions normally travel when batteries are charged and discharged.

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  • Bioscriber, an online synthetic biology tutorial, goes live


    How to explain synthetic biology to the masses? And how to link it to the DOE mission?  This is what the DOE Joint Genome Institute and the Joint BioEnergy Institute sought to accomplish with Bioscriber, an online tutorial that debuted on October 13, 2012 at the Berkeley Lab Open House.

    The initial phase of this educational module captures how information gleaned from organisms found in nature, bioprospecting, coupled with genome sequencing can lead to improved breakdown and conversion of plant biomass into an advanced, non-ethanol biofuel.

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  • Titan: 20 petaflops for the scientific community


    DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has launched a new era of scientific supercomputing with Titan, a system capable of churning through more than 20,000 trillion calculations each second – or 20 petaflops – by employing a family of processors called graphic processing units first created for computer gaming. Titan will be 10 times more powerful than ORNL's last world-leading system, Jaguar, while overcoming power and space limitations inherent in the previous generation of high-performance computers.

    Titan will provide unprecedented computing power for research in energy, climate change, efficient engines, materials and other disciplines and pave the way for a wide range of achievements in science and technology.

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