Electrical engineer helps send particle beams into RHIC

When did you join Brookhaven Lab and how did you find your way here?

I joined the lab in December 2016. My circuit teacher at Suffolk Community College recruited me! I was well on my way to becoming an environmental engineer when I took his course. I was planning to transfer to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was even looking for apartments upstate. But when he pulled me aside one day after class and told me he wanted to recommend me for a technician job at the Lab, everything changed! I thought it was too good to be true. I wasn’t sure I could picture myself as an electrical engineer. I don’t think the reality of the situation hit me before the interview. Now I couldn’t imagine being anything else!

What is your job at Brookhaven?

I am an associate electrical engineer in the radio frequency (RF) group of the Collider-Accelerator department. I work on the controllers for each of the RF cavities that accelerate particle beams from the linear accelerator (linac) to the relativistic heavy ion collider (RHIC). During the RHIC run, I’m on call, which means I sometimes end up troubleshooting remotely — from a coffee shop, a birthday party, the parking lot of various grocery stores, or (my favorite) in my pajamas.

What inspires your work here?

I think all engineers like to do things and any good job will challenge you. This place definitely gives me that. I’m still doing things and I still feel like I’m growing. More than anything else, I think what gets the job done for me is the people. My group is made up of some truly amazing individuals. Their eyes shine with pride when they talk about their projects; you can hear the gears spinning as they solve a problem. This kind of passion is contagious. People dream of this place, then build it, then dream it better for longer than I’ve been alive. Doing even a small part of this kind of dedication fills me.

What is your favorite story about your work?

The RHIC collides with many different types of ions, at different energies. This is sometimes called a “mode change” or a “species change”. Every time we switch to a new configuration for the first time, hundreds of settings have to be adjusted manually. The main control room operators will start from a previous setup that they believe will put them in the right stage for the change, and then the RF group will get involved to help us get the rest of the way. What ensues is what appears to the outside observer as essentially rapid telepathic communication between the operators and the RF group. They stay up all night in the control room watching the signals, tweaking the settings, so that the alternating gradient synchrotron (AGS) ion beam is kicked out at the right time to be injected into the RHIC, at the right energy and phase.

Since [COVID-19] hit by the pandemic, one of the engineers in my group did it remotely. With a little persuasion, he agreed to let me participate. We stayed awake until the wee hours of the morning, adjusting the timing and phasing of the RF cavities. By the end, the beam was flowing happily and my brain was filled to the brim with new ideas and understandings. It was exhilarating.

What future activity at the Lab are you most excited about?

I’m excited about the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) – all about the project: the new hardware my group will design, the collaboration with Jefferson Lab [Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility], the influx of new people. I’m really lucky! Right now is a unique opportunity to learn the machine from the ground up, to understand why decisions are made, what the challenges are, to be a fly on the wall when brilliant people are tackling problems which seem insurmountable to me. I am so grateful to be part of it.

RHIC is a user facility of the DOE Office of Science for nuclear physics research. The RHIC and the EIC project are supported by the DOE Office of Science.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the largest supporter of basic physical science research in the United States and works to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.

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