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Featured Graduate Student - Bonnie Fleming

From the Spring 2001 sciencelines

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.