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Fast Talker

PhD candidate in physics, Scott Ely, was recently awarded top honors for “Lightning Round” talk at the U.S. Large Hadron Collider Users Association Meeting.

Jan 10, 2018 | Article by: Amy Manley


Scott Ely

The Large Hadron Collider, located on the border of France and Switzerland, is known for its powerful ability to sling particles near the speed of light. Here at Syracuse University, physics Ph.D. candidate Scott Ely is gaining a reputation for slinging scientific concepts almost as fast.

Ely was recently honored at the U.S. Large Hadron Collider Users (US LHC) Association Meeting this past fall for his winning “Lightning Round” talk. During the US LHC meeting, young scientists are given the opportunity to discuss their research in several quick-fire sessions. The presentations, which must be under 10 minutes, cover a wide range of topics from physics analyses to computational developments and hardware improvements. When the smoke cleared, Ely was named among the top presenters at the international conference.

Having been intimately involved in the development of specialized silicon sensors for a new tracking sub-detector that will be installed in the LHC Beauty experiment next year, Ely was uniquely equipped to succinctly discuss this area of research in progress at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN.

The Large Hadron Collider is a powerful particle accelerator used to study the fundamental particles of matter. Using 17 miles of tunnels and a series of formidable magnets, the machine creates super-speed, particle-sized collisions, allowing physicists to gather more clues about the properties and forces that impact matter—and leading to even bigger questions such as how the universe was formed.

Ely earned his undergraduate degree in applied physics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, prior to his arrival at Syracuse. The San Francisco Bay area native hopes to defend his doctoral dissertation in experimental high energy physics in 2019.

A&S News caught up with Ely prior to winter break to learn more about his research and his reaction to being recognized at the conference. 

01: Tell us about your current area of research at Syracuse University.

I work with Professor Marina Artuso for the LHC Beauty (LHCb) experiment at CERN.  (Editor’s note: LHCb is an experiment set up to explore what happened after the Big Bang that allowed matter to survive.)

A large portion of my research is dedicated to the LHCb-UT (Upgrade Tracker). We are building this new tracking sub-detector that will be installed in the LHCb detector starting in 2019. The particle detection is accomplished by using silicon detectors. These are semiconductor devices allow passing charged particles to be detected. This is a part of a larger upgrade effort for the LHCb detector, which will allow the experiment to take data at higher energies and increased luminosity.

02: What inspired you to pursue your current academic path?

While studying at UC Santa Cruz, I started to work for the ATLAS experiment (one of four major experiments happening at CERN) to characterize silicon sensor processing techniques, as well as making some of the first measurements on Ultra-Fast Silicon Diodes, which is one of the frontiers of silicon detector technology. My experience there prepared me to work on the LHCb-UT, focusing on the characterization of the new design features employed by the sensors.

03: Tell us about your eight-minute talk that won the competition. What was the topic, how did you prepare and why do you think it resonated so well?

For years we have been developing silicon sensors for the LHCb-UT. These sensors have several novel design features, which must be extensively tested.

Using our design, we can better support our sensor and simplify the construction procedure for assembling the sensors with the other readout components.

In 2016, I was stationed at CERN, where I participated in two 'test beam' experiments. The goal of these is to assess the performance of the sensors, after they have been irradiated at the CERN Proton- Synchrotron, which uses 24GeV protons. During that campaign, we saw that our pitch adapters showed some drastic inefficiencies, which forced us to redesign the sensor layout.

In 2017, I returned to CERN in both May and August to organize the irradiation of the newly designed sensors and participate in the first test beam experiment. I then led the second test beam effort in August from CERN, and upon completion, we finalized the sensor design for the majority of sensors that will be used in the Upgrade Tracker.

My talk covered the experiments described above and the results. Having been so deeply involved in every stage, I was well prepared to speak at the conference. I think I received the positive reaction because the experiments could be well understood: we had clear goals for each test beam and got some definitive and critical results. This should be exciting for particle physicists, as this will allow us to probe higher energies and search for new physics in never before explored regions.

04: What is the prize for winning at the event?

Several students from the lighting round sessions are invited to join the United States Large Hadron Collider Users Association annual trip to Washington, D.C. While the details of the trip are still developing, sometime in the spring we will accompany the team to meet with congressional representatives to discuss high energy physics.

05: What was your reaction to being honored?

I am very excited! There was a lot of effort put into perfecting the sensors that will ultimately be used in the UT, and after playing a crucial role in the organization and execution of these experiments over the past two years, it was great to be appreciated for these efforts. However, it certainly was not a one-person job; in addition to our whole team at SU we have had tremendous support by many of our collaborating institutes, including INFN in Milano, AGH in Krakow, University of Zurich, MIT, University of Cincinnati and the University of Maryland.

06: What do you hope to do after graduation from Syracuse University?

I would like to continue working in high-energy physics, particularly working for an experiment with CERN. I do enjoy the hardware side of physics, and researching at the frontier of silicon technology is a big interest. 


Contact Information

Amy Manley