Nilanga Liyanage / Physics

*My involvement as a faculty adviser with the Math club in spring 2006. Math club is an undergraduate student organize an experimental physicist; a researcher in medium energy particle physics. I conduct my research at Thomas Jefferson National accelerator

Facility (Jefferson Lab) located in Newport News, Virginia. At Jefferson lab basic research is conducted to understand the quark sub-structure of nuclei, protons neutrons and other sub-atomic particles. I first got started in Jefferson lab research when I was still an undergraduate in early nineties. One main reason that attracted me to Jefferson lab research was that while it was cutting edge world class research, much of the technology and concepts behind the workings of the lab were closely related to intriguing new concepts I was studying in my undergraduate physics courses.

For example, elementary particles are routinely accelerated to speeds very close to the speed to light at Jefferson lab. At these speeds the particles behave exactly as prescribed by the theory of relativity; like “speeding things ageless”.  I was so amazed and intrigued to see that an unstable particle that has a very short life time when it is stationary, lives much longer when it is moving close to the speed of light, and that this could be readily demonstrated using a simple experiment. another example was the “wave-particle duality”: that any moving particle also has wave behavior  while a wave, like a ray of light or a radio wave, also behaves like a bunch of particles. This of course sounds strange when applied to day to day objects like tennis balls or cars. However, it becomes very clear when one enters the world of elementary particles. actually I was excited to understand, based on the wave-particle duality, that Jefferson lab is really a giant electron microscope, working with a beam of “electron waves” , similar in principle to a regular optical microscope (but operating at a much smaller wave length to explore Much smaller objects and costing about a billion dollars).

One of the experiments I am working on with my colleagues at Jefferson lab will take place next spring and summer, in this experiment we plan to study the properties of the proton with unprecedented precision; it is kind of like taking a very high resolution snap-shot of the proton.

One of my dreams has been to give the opportunity of participating in a Jefferson lab experiment to at least a few under- graduate physics majors. A one week stay in Newport News cost about $ 600. So I would like to organize a competition among physics majors next spring where they will write a short research paper on the way a modern physics topic of their choice has been used at Jefferson lab. Then I would like to take the three top winners of this competition to Jefferson lab in the summer where they will stay for a week and participate in the running of the proton experiment and get a chance to see the workings of this world class lab for themselves.