Texas A&M Physics Student Finds Niche In Collider Research At CERN

Indara Suarez didn’t speak a word of English when she arrived to the U.S. from Mexico at age 12. The grades she made in high school weren’t good enough to get her into a four-year university.

Now as a doctoral student at Texas AM University working toward a Ph.D. in high-energy physics, Suarez has received a coveted award recognizing outstanding contributions on one of the world’s biggest stages for elite particle physics – CERN, or the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

“In Mexico, I was used to being known as ‘the smart kid,'” Suarez said from Switzerland in her office at CERN. “So the language barrier was very draining for me, and I struggled. But a lot of people helped me, believed in me and supported me. I wouldn’t be here without them.”

On Dec. 9, Suarez was honored with a 2013 CMS Achievement Award, given to 23 of the roughly 3,000 scientists from around the world working on the CMS, or Compact Muon Solenoid experiment, which is powered by one of two large particle physics detectors at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The award was given for her work integrating panels developed at Texas AM and other universities as part of an upgrade to the system.

The optical trigger mother boards (OTMBs), built in the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy-located laboratory of Texas AM physicist and CMS collaborator Alexei Safonov, serve as part of the detector’s data filtration system. Scientists collide protons into each other at nearly the speed of light with the hope of observing interesting physics events, such as a new particle like the Higgs boson. The collisions occur about a billion times per second, and the boards help decide which data to discard and which to store.

“Imagine CMS as like a camera,” said Suarez, who is a deputy manager on the upgrade effort. “There’s a limitation to how many pictures can be stored because you have limited memory in the camera. You can’t store all your pictures, so you have to choose which to store. It’s kind of the same thing. All of the data we collect has to pass the first filter, and our board is the one that makes that first decision. The physics that we can do depends a lot on this system.”

For more information, see http://www.science.tamu.edu/articles/1152.