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Nicole Ackerman

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Nicole Ackerman

Did you know the guitarist for the band Queen was an astrophysicist? Somehow I learned this important fact as a primary school student in the Detroit suburb of Lake Orion. The word sounded intriguing, and I soon discovered that the subject matter deserved such a glorious title. My interest in physics continued even through 4 years at MIT, where I learned what the life of a physicist actually looks like. I worked on ATLAS for a year and subsequently spent a summer at CERN, completely failing to learn French while there. I then worked on BaBar and traveled to SLAC for a few months. It was my first time in California, and I knew I wanted to come back permanently. I graduated from MIT in 2007 and then entered the PhD program in physics at Stanford University, working at SLAC.

I'm now exploring the realm of particle physics that doesn't depend on giant accelerators. I work on an experiment called EXO - the Enriched Xenon Observatory. It looks for a rare nuclear decay - called neutrinoless double beta decay - in order to study the nature of the neutrino. The experiment is being installed in a salt mine used for storing nuclear waste in New Mexico, called WIPP, so I spend part of my time underground, which is almost as interesting as the physics we are studying!

Above ground, I live with my partner, Tom, who is also a Stanford physics graduate student. I try to get outside and enjoy the beautiful California weather while biking and SCUBA diving. I recently discovered skiing, which is a short drive away in significantly worse weather. While inside I read, watch sci-fi, fiddle with websites and linux, and bake cookies. I have a passion for issues of diversity, especially in physics, which was first crystallized while working on a minor in Gender and Sexuality studies at MIT.

I look forward to writing about the unusual places I work in, and the interesting problems we face in low background physics. I'm sure there will be many musings regarding the importance of community and diversity in physics, the nature of representation of physicists, and reviews of some of the books I'm reading on the sociology of physics.