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Bjoern Penning

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Bjorn Penning

I am a German PhD student hunting for the Higgs boson at Fermilab and living in the exciting city of Chicago for three years now. But today I write this brief bio from Freiburg, Germany, where I am spending the summer to prepare and submit my thesis. In fact, in just a matter of weeks, this text will be outdated in several aspects—the fact that I will be a postdoc research fellow at Fermilab being only one of them. But that's the fate of this sort of text, and as I now join Quantum Diaries as a blogger, sharing my experiences and thoughts, I think of this text as "my bio as of late summer 2009." I hope my future posts here will account for the "updates" as I move on.

I was born in a small place in Germany, located between the Lake of Constance and the Black Forest. People from this region in South Germany are said to be inventive and a bit stubborn, a good mixture for becoming a physicist I think. As far as my earliest memories go, I remember feeling strongly attracted to science and physics in particular (maybe I watched one or two Star Trek episodes too many). After finishing high school, I went to the University of Freiburg to study physics, math and computer science. In particular, particle physics appealed to me. When the opportunity came to participate in one of those big collaborations, I gratefully accepted it.

I gained my first experience studying the angular distribution of the top quark decay at the DZero experiment. The top quark is the heaviest of the known particles and there are good reasons to believe that this special place in the particle zoo makes it an excellent probe for new physics. The DZero experiment is one of two big detectors located at the Tevatron accelerator at Fermilab, close to Chicago. Almost 600 people of several dozen nationalities are working at the experiment, covering a wide range of scientific and technical questions. It is a great experience to work in such an international environment.

After graduating from college, I continued to work at DZero for my PhD, now hunting for the Higgs boson. This Higgs boson is the only particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that is still not observed. It is thought to be responsible for giving everything else (including us!) mass by a mechanism called “symmetry breaking.” Moreover, we believe once we are able to pinpoint this elusive particle and measure its properties we will be able to shed light on numerous questions, including possible ways to unify the four known forces in a “Grand Unifying Theory” and a more comprehensive view of what happened very shortly after the Big Bang.

In these huge collaborative efforts of modern particle physics, we all have to participate in first producing the data that we are going to analyze. To do so, I spent a considerable amount of work focusing on calorimetry, which is the science and methods of accurately measuring the energies of the particles produced in the detector. I put special emphasis on data taking operations, but as well on calibration and algorithms for these tasks. I was lucky to have a very supportive supervisor and was able to spend almost all of my graduate studies at Fermilab--a great time that gave me the opportunity to work with a lot of very experienced people. Now that I am almost finished with my PhD, I am going to join Fermilab as a research fellow and plan to continue working on DZero, as well as the ATLAS experiment in collaboration with the University of Chicago.

I live in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago. I really love Chicago. It is a great place even if the winter can be a bit rough. I met a lot of very nice people there and still I am often marveled. Apart from physics, I like spending time with my friends, playing sports, particularly jogging and snowboarding and reading. I like traveling as well, and in this job, we get a fair share of it. As for writing, this is my first blogging experience, and although it is yet early to say, I think I do like it.

So, looking forward to share my experiences with you...

Björn Penning