This summer, I worked within The Ohio State University ATLAS group under the mentorship of our head of engineering, Dr. Shane Smith, on the development a data acquisition system for beam profile monitoring on the Proton Synchrotron particle accelerator at CERN. That probably makes no sense to anyone who has never dealt with particle accelerator before. I know it didn’t to me when I was first working on developing this project with Prof. Kagan and Dr. Smith. Beam profile monitoring (BPM) is the process of detecting the amount of radiation passing through an area in some period of time. In the case of this project, I had to design a system that would be connected to a thin foil detector with between 40 and 50 square regions that would be placed in the beam in front or behind of an object being irradiated. Each square region generates a current on the scale of pico-Amperes. The system I designed, integrated these currents over the duration of a single spill (the period where particles are bombarding the device) from the particle accelerator, about 400 ms in this case. This integration gave a usable voltage that was scaled, inverted, buffered, and read by an analog-to-digital converter connected to an Arduino Yún. The Arduino Yún controlled the entire system from determining when integration was to occur, to what channel to read the voltage from, to determining when to collect data based on input signals. It also collected and sent all data out over the Internet to servers operated by CERN for analysis and display. Currently two BPM data acquisition systems are at CERN, connected to their respective sensors and reading data out. Two more are ready to ship but are being held back until six more are manufactured so that they all can be sent at once in time for the beginning of experiments in Spring.
In addition to working on the BPM data acquisition system, I assisted in the repair of a pulsed ruby laser power supply operated by my research group. I assisted on a variety of other projects in the lab from a robotic test system for diamonds that has yet to be finished to manufacturing a variety of mechanical parts to repair various items around our lab.
I worked over the entire in a research lab. I went in when I woke up and went home when I felt that I could not accomplish anymore in lab. Most of my time in lab was spent researching parts or topics which I had not covered in classes. In addition to that, I often had to request samples of parts and build test circuits to determine if what I was designing would work. I used every researcher in the group as a resource at least once a week. I ended up performing the same work as many of the graduate students in the physics department working on designing experiments. But unlike the graduate students, I was an electrical engineer working with two full-time electrical engineer staff members and a full-time technician. We were a group of people who knew how to design circuits and how to help others design them. On an almost weekly basis, we had graduate students from other groups coming into our lab asking for help on their research. Whether it was a simple op amp circuit or fixing a complex piece of electrical hardware, every one in our lab helped solve problems for the entire department. Of course, when we had questions about physics, we ended up talking to whatever physicist we could find nearby. And seeing as our understanding of physics was more focused on the application than the theory, this was a fairly common occurrence. I learned how to find the resources I needed to solve my technical problems. I became for the summer, essentially a member of research staff. I learned that I thrived in this environment. And I decided that I would go to graduate school.
I am currently working, albeit slowly, on designing a test system for a diamond amplifier created by the two full-time electrical engineers in my research group. While I haven’t had as much time this semester to work on my research as I would have preferred, I have made slow but steady progress on getting the remaining BPM data acquisition systems. I currently oversee two research assistants working on manufacturing the systems for CERN. I plan on applying to graduate schools next fall after I either continue research next summer or get an engineering internship.