Ed Home - TRC Home - sciencelines Index - Spring 2001

Meet Fermilab Graduate Students

  Brian Connolly

 Bonnie Fleming

 Bram Wijngaarden

 Olga Lobban

Brian Connolly, DØ, Florida State University

Brian, please tell us a bit about your experiment here at Fermilab.

I came to Fermilab at the end of 1998. I have been spending half of my time helping build the detector and half on my thesis. I am collaborating with others to measure the mass of the top quark through the DØ detector. Within the detector we sift out millions of interactions that occur every second. We build triggers that sort and sift the data so we have what we want to study. From the electrons you'll have a lot of B quarks. We set the parameters, sort and sift and study what supports our assumptions about the mass of the top.

Did you always plan to study science? What influenced you?

Well, from the age of six I can recall watching programs like Carl Sagan's Cosmos and being interested in science. I was always curious about how things worked, but I didn't like math. I read a lot. But, I was "doomed to be average" early in my educational career.

In junior high I had the chance to attend a science camp at Ball State University and I remember hearing stories of scientists, history of science really. This all kept my interest peaked.

When I went to Bowling Green State University, I wasn't sure what I wanted to major in. I started out in elementary education, then thought it might be fun to be a "roadie" and explored technical theatre for a while. My sister, who is a year and a half younger than me, was attending Purdue and studying physics. She had all these great stories about the program and before I knew it, I was convinced, transferred and finished my undergraduate program there.

What involvement have you had with education? What do you like most about working with teachers and/or students?
I speak with the high school and Beauty and Charm groups when they come to Fermilab. I've also gone into a few classrooms to share some interactive talks with fourth and fifth graders. You learn so much when you teach.

What have you learned? What advice would you give?

Science can be a vehicle to help people learn about so much that surrounds them - things they don't understand, TV, power lines . . . People have tremendous curiosity. It's flabbergasting and their interestis a great resource. Never underestimate the impact you can make to help them understand, even on the most temperamental. Never say never.

Please share a little about yourself, such as your hobbies, family, etc.

My sister is here at the Lab too. I still read a lot, anything from philosophy to literature. I play the piano, which can be helpful if you just need to relax. I've done a bit of traveling and had a chance for a cheap ticket to Belize for New Year's Eve '00/'01, just in case we had any Y2K problems, there was no electricity anyway. It was a blast!

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Bonnie Fleming, MiniBooNE and NuTev, Columbia University

Bonnie, please tell us a bit about your experiments here at Fermilab.

I'm a fifth year grad student working on MiniBooNE and NuTev. These are fixed target experiments and happen to have more women working on them. I have been testing 1500 photomultiplier tubes configured in a sphere to read the particle collisions. On these experiments we're also doing analysis of the neutrino that will eventually inform the MINOS neutrino experiment as well.

What influenced you to study science?

My mother is a psychiatrist, a schizophrenia researcher. So, I did have direct influence at home. But I also loved to work at whatever was the most challenging. I liked physics in high school. It was a great experience in a small department. I attended Holton Arms, an all girls' school in Bethesda, Maryland for grades 3 through 12.

Where did you study to become a Fermilab scientist? Did you have other influential experiences?

I went to Barnard College as a physics undergrad, but wasn't sure right away about grad school. I wanted to work in the field a while before committing that much time. So, I worked at Brookhaven Laboratory as an "accelerator physics lackey" for three years. Working in the field convinced me so I went on to Columbia.

Why do you like working with education?

I love to teach and think through the process of what someone needs to understand something. I have found that role models are very important. We all want to be "cool" and having others such as interesting women to see is important.

What advice would you give to those studying physics?

Have fun! I enjoy the fact that everyday I have a challenge. It's like playing a game to understand how systems, such as the Standard Model work, to interpret pieces of the puzzle that fit together, to put together the data, build a model or get something to work. The critical thing in school is to learn to think. There's much said about the challenges for women in science but I haven't encountered this. I've had encouragement. My advisor is a woman. A Ph.D. in physics is becoming versatile and sought after. You can choose to stay in academics, work for Wall Street companies as analysts, traders or many connections. The importance is that you've learned to be a problem solver.

Please share a little about yourself, such as family or goals.

My husband is a theoretical physicist at Ohio State University in Columbus, OH so we are a very physics-oriented family. I would like to continue working in neutrino physics where there are a lot of new and exciting results coming. I'd also like to be in an environment where I can teach and would like to find ways to encourage young women to pursue physics. It is still a field very underrepresented by women; this is something I can't quite figure out since I like it so much. It is something to work on.

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Bram Wijngaarden, DØ, Catholic University of Nijmegen

Bram, please tell us a bit about your experiments here at Fermilab.

I've been at Fermilab for 20 months on an independent four year-contract with the project. I work on research 90% of the time and teach for the remaining 10%. I collaborate on the analysis of the data as my thesis. My favorite is the central part of the detector, the "silicon microstrip tracker." To put together the detector we have to test, diagnose problems or salvage any components of the detectors. We use volt meters, oscilloscopes and computers to measure the signals to be sure that the detectors are operating effectively.

Did you always plan to study science? What influenced you?

When I was young, I always read a lot. I went to the public libraries and used the science activity books to do the semi-magic activities. Of course, I built with Legos too. My parents were not in sciences by profession. My father is a humanities professor at a university and my mother is a high school English teacher. They always read a lot but generally in the areas of nature or biology. So, even in high school I thought more about literature and the "classics" than science. I was in a classical school and they did encourage physics, math and chemistry. I had very good teachers. My first physics teacher was very playful and explored area and force by thinking about pressure on the ground if a chicken had five legs, or circular motion of derailing trams. My second teacher was younger and not as playful, but passionate and provided extra lectures on Einstein, his life and physics.

Where did you study to become a Fermilab scientist? Were you always a good student?

I studied at the University of Amsterdam and became a physics major. It was fun! It was the best time of my life! I was very active in lots of activities and student organizations for physics students and student council for the faculty. We would do science fairs in the shopping square in Amsterdam showing experiments to the public like Van der Graaff generators, tricks with optics, sound and liquid nitrogen.

What involvement have you had with education?

I tutored early from high school and through university. Here I visited a charter school in Chicago to talk with students about the physics of sports. I found it very interesting. Not only did the kids argue about golf clubs and which ones to use, but they wanted to know about the black situation in the Netherlands. They were really surprised that we have Dutch rap groups.

Please share a little about yourself, such as your hobbies, family, etc.

I still love to read and still read science fiction and fantasy but classics and literature too. I've played the piano since age 9, taking lessons until graduate school, but I am still at the amateur level. I play mostly classics, but I've tried a little blues since we're in Chicago. My favorite way to relax is to cook. When I have the time, I'll spend a half hour or hour cooking. I do a lot of sports! I've played baseball, cricket, basketball, even being the MVP here at Fermilab last winter. But, my favorite is speed skating. I'm in a speed skating club and we work with the buddy system so us older ones coach the little ones.

What advice would you give students?

Always do things you enjoy and enjoy the things you have to do. Don't become a one-dimensional person.

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Olga Lobban, CDF, Texas Tech University

Olga, please tell us a bit about your experiments here at Fermilab.

I've been at Fermilab for a year and a half. Part of my role in working with the CDF experiment is seeking to improve resolution for jets. We are working on issues concerning calibration of the calorimeters and energy measurements of the jets.

Did you always plan to study science? What influenced you?

No, when I was young I wanted to be an actress. I studied music in high school and thought of being a concert pianist. While in high school I got an offer to go to TAMS, the Texas Academy for Math and Science, on the campus of University of North Texas. It is a residential magnet school for math and science and we took university classes early in calculus, physics and biology. I had a chemistry teacher who gave a lecture about modern physics. I don't come from a scientific family, but my dad did read "this Hawking guy." I also had the opportunity to attend a program called "Clark Scholars" which was held at Texas Tech University which is where I met my advisor, Richard Wigmans. Once I started exploring modern physics, I was hooked.

Where did you study to become a Fermilab scientist?

I attended MIT as an undergraduate in physics. Then I returned to Texas Tech University.

How have you been involved in education and what have you learned?

I tutored at Texas Tech and while a TA I loved teaching labs. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed being able to explain something to someone and that moment when you see that they "get it" is very satisfying. I think to be a good teacher takes a lot of time. Not only is it important to create interesting lessons but you have to take the time to be with the kids, sometimes just talking too. I see both the dedicated teachers and the teachers who are there from 8:00-2:00. I don't know how they last. A dedicated teacher has as much devotion and spends as much energy in a full-time position as in any scientific position. It takes a lot of energy and enthusiasm. As a girl in science I always received a lot of encouragement and never experienced barriers.

What advice would you give to students?

For high school students deciding on colleges, I would strongly recommend that they consider small liberal arts schools that focus on teaching at the undergraduate level. In high school and undergraduate, you have to learn the basics, mechanics, electromagnetism, but you should keep in mind that that's only the beginning of physics. Stick through it and be aware that that's not all there is.

Please share a little about yourself, such as your hobbies, family, etc.

I met my husband while I was an undergraduate at MIT. He's a high school physics teacher in Chicago. I love to read and watch movies. I go to the Fermilab gym a lot and have always loved ballet and modern dance.


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