Physics Spotlight

December 2021
Physics Spotlight

David Kessler & Tristan Winick

Ph.D. Candidates, University of Massachusetts Amherst

This spotlight highlights Physics most recent DOE Fellowship awardees, David Kessler and Tristan Winick, both of whom are graduate students within the department. They were chosen to not only introduce them to the physics community, but also to showcase their achievements and congratulate them on their awards!

The DOE Fellowship program aims to provide supplemental funding towards conducting a part of an awardees thesis at a host DOE laboratory in collaboration with a DOE laboratory scientist. Students are chosen based off of their research projects that are earmarked as being of “significant importance” and that “address societal challenges at the national and international scale.”

Kessler and Winick share an advisor, Professor David Kawall and are on track to potentially making significant research breakthroughs. As such, we are very excited to share more on their accomplishments and build upon a recent article that was done by UMass Amherst, by presenting a different take on the individuals behind the awards! To learn more about David Kessler and Tristan Winick, read their Q&A below!!!

What brought you to the University of Massachusetts to continue your studies?

David: UMass has an excellent physics department, with a lot of professors working on interesting research projects. When I decided to apply here, I knew I’d be able to find something exciting to work on.

Tristan: I wanted to work towards a full-time research career, for which a graduate degree is immensely helpful. It was also for my own personal edification and to indulge my curiosity.

Where did you do your undergrad? What is your degree in?

David: My undergrad was at University of Maryland, majoring in Physics.

Tristan: I did my undergrad degree at Drexel University and my degree is in Physics.

Who is your faculty advisor and why did you pick them?

David: My faculty advisor is Dave Kawall. We started working together during my first summer semester here at UMass. It was originally meant to be a temporary position, but I was enjoying my project and I wanted to see it all the way through so we kept going. It’s been wonderful working together and I think that the two of us make a good team.

Tristan: Dave Kawall is my faculty advisor. I chose to work with him because I was interested in how his work was at the intersection of particle physics, nuclear physics, and atomic/molecular physics. My experience with the last of those three was somewhat limited from a formal study perspective, so I saw working with Dave as an opportunity to learn something new.

What has been your favorite Graduate level course so far?

David: It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I audited a Cosmology course one semester that was definitely a lot of fun.

Tristan: Unexpectedly, it was statistical mechanics, which originally, was not my favorite as an undergraduate.

Has any of your research resulted in a published article?

David: My contributions to g-2 were included in two of the primary results papers from the collaboration.

Tristan: As an undergraduate, I did some work with the EXO-200 collaboration that contributed to a paper. This paper involved double beta decays of 136-Xe to excited nuclear states of 136-Ba.

Recently, you were awarded a very competitive DoE Fellowship to help further your PhD research. How does it feel to have been selected as one of this year’s Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program awardees?

David: I’m flattered to have been selected. It’s quite an honor, and it’s opening up an amazing opportunity for me to spend most of next year working at Fermilab. There’s a big responsibility that comes with it, to make the most of this opportunity, so I’m also a little nervous. Mostly excited, though.

If possible, can you tell us what the main goals are for your research and what you hope to accomplish with your DOE scientist collab?

David: The goal of the overall Muon g-2 experiment at Fermilab is to measure the magnetic moment of subatomic particles called muons, and find out whether the predicted value from the Standard Model is correct or incorrect. My work aims to improve some of the magnetic field measurement techniques that g-2 uses to determine the strength of magnetic fields experienced by the muons.

Tristan: I will be working to assist in completing the experimental apparatus for the collaboration of which I am apart (CeNTREX). One of the aims of the collaboration is to obtain a new limit on the 205-Tl Schiff moment (a deformation in the shape of the nucleus characterized by a permanent electric dipole moment). This experiment will also serve as a field test for some novel technologies, including a new type of large-scale low magnetic field electrodes and precision nanoammeters.

If you are able to accomplish your goals for this research. Where do you think these results will lead us toward both within the scientific community and in future research?

David: Magnetic field measurements are currently some of the biggest contributors to uncertainty in the g-2 result. Driving those uncertainties down will help g-2 conclusively determine whether or not the Standard Model prediction of the muon magnetic moment is correct. It would be revolutionary if the Standard Model prediction turned out to be wrong.

Tristan: In the best-case scenario, we would see the hypothesized permanent electric dipole moment, which would imply time-reversal violation and provide an additional path by which the huge asymmetry between matter and antimatter in our universe might be explained. Regardless of what we observe, this experiment should still provide the most precise limit on the 205-Tl Schiff moment to date. Moreover, the new technologies we develop will have more immediate applications. The new electrode type will be useful for generating electric fields around 30 kV/cm for any application where keeping external magnetic fields low is a priority, and the nanoammeters will be able to measure very small currents to great precision while requiring extremely low power to operate properly.

Are there any tips that you would give to a graduate student who is considering on applying to a DOE fellowship like this in the future?

David: I was originally going to apply for this fellowship one year earlier, but it turned out that I wasn’t able to at that time because I hadn’t officially advanced to PhD candidacy. So my number 1 tip for fellowship applicants is to make sure well in advance that you fulfill all of the requirements.

Do you have any research interests outside of what you are working on now?

David: My research is focused on experimental particle physics. Outside of that, I have a passion for astronomy and cosmology that’s stuck around ever since I was young. I love anything that looks at the universe at the largest scales.

Tristan: I would have liked to pursue nanotechnology at greater length, but never really had the opportunity to study it in a capacity beyond taking courses. I also find acoustics very interesting.

What are your future plans?

David: I plan to continue working with the g-2 collaboration after I graduate. Beyond that, I hope to stay in academia and keep doing physics research for as long as I can.

Tristan: After finishing my PhD, I would like to shift towards an industry career path and pivot towards (likely) acoustical engineering, preferably in R&D.

Is there a course, seminar or program that you would like to see here on campus?

David: I’d like to see a graduate-level Standard Model course that picks up where Quantum Field Theory 2 leaves off. There are a lot of important physics techniques in that area that I’d like to have a stronger formal understanding of. A course that covers scientific writing and the publication process for physics journals could also be very helpful.

What advice would you give to undergraduates considering Graduate programs?

David: My top advice is to stay flexible. Things will rarely turn out how you first plan and that’s OK. The real process is always using what you have available to figure out the best way to move forward.

Tristan: Make sure that graduate school is what you really want to do. There is a significant difficulty spike in coursework and many aspects of research are mundane or tedious between interesting insights. Especially in research, you will need to do some legwork to get to the rewarding parts. Results will not be instant.

You have a life outside of UMass. What are some things that you enjoy doing? Do you have any hobbies?

David: It’s been tough with the pandemic, but I love tabletop board games and role-playing games. Fortunately, we’ve been able to find a few good ways to recreate the tabletop experience over video-chat.

Tristan: Outside of work, I compose and produce electronic music, play video games, and go rock climbing. Pre pandemic, I liked trying restaurants and sampling new foods and cuisines, though that activity has been limited significantly.