Pushing beyond the standard: ASU physics student awarded national fellowship

March 4, 2019

Arizona State University graduate student Glenn Randall was recently awarded a research fellowship to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program selected Randall as one of 47 graduate students to be awarded the opportunity to pursue part of their graduate thesis research at a Department of Energy laboratory. The labs operate in various areas of focus pertaining to the Office of Science’s mission to “…transform our understanding of nature and to advance the energy, economic and national security of the United States.” Glenn Randall stands next to ONRL equipment key to his thesis research. Glenn Randall was awarded the opportunity to perform high-precision neutron research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Download Full Image

Randall will be collaborating with Leah Broussard at ORNL in the area of low energy physics.

As scientists continue to explore the universe and its components, the invention of experiments and testing instruments of greater and greater accuracy bring new perspective and provide new insight into the makeup and interaction of particles.

In this quest for discovery, Randall and Broussard will be conducting a high-precision measurement of two different neutron beta decay parameters. This decay interaction is referred to as weak force and is instrumental in obtaining a better understanding of the sun and its fusion power.

Based on what is understood so far, one of the parameters of the experiment should be zero. However, with new equipment that allows for finer accuracy, there is a new chance to determine whether the standard model of zero holds, or whether a newer calculation that was previously too small to be measured is discovered.

The standard model describes the whole of what is currently known about nuclear and particle physics in the universe — and it has held up for close to 50 years. However, despite its continued accuracy in ongoing tests, there remain some mysteries. The discovery of a new measurement that disagrees with the standard model would spark valuable new discussions and open the door for other important discoveries.

The second parameter being considered in Randall’s research with Broussard will take a closer look at differing measurements shaping our current understanding of how weak nuclear force interacts, particularly with quarks, a type of elementary particle.

Varying methods to arrive at these measurements are highly sensitive and depend on a different combination of theoretical principles. Comparing these new results to others will provide new hints and insight.

“Everything needs to be very high precision,” Randall said. Even the smallest error has the potential to throw everything off.

As is so often the case in physics, careful examination of incredibly small elements lend a broader understanding of the universe as a whole. Through these careful and exceptionally precise measurements of neutrons and their interaction — the weak force — results have the potential to push past the standard model of understanding and push us into the realm of new physics, new theories and ideas for what is out there and how it works.

This possibility of discovering answers to questions that still leave us in the dark is one of the things that kept Randall on his path to studying physics.

Despite attending a high school with a very small program — physics classes were only offered every other year — he felt that physics just made sense, and he took advantage of every opportunity to learn more.

“I like to think that given enough time, we will find ways to improve the lives of humanity through physics,” he said.

Randall skiing

Randall completed his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. He knew he would go on to a graduate program in physics eventually, but he felt the push to see what he could accomplish in his other passion: athletics. After graduating, he took a few years off to pursue professional running and skiing.

Once he determined it was time to continue academically, the consideration of several factors led him to ASU, including the warm weather and the Department of Physics’ faculty graduate advisers.

“I’ve always had the belief that the really important thing is who your adviser is,” he said.

Randall has been studying under Physics President’s Professor Ricardo Alarcon, whose extensive research includes fundamental symmetries of nature, specifically relating to the neutron. He is also involved in experiments looking at precision measurements of electron scattering.

Dominique Perkins

Events and Communications Coordinator, Department of Physics


Fulbright award will send ASU professor to Mexico for mobile health research

March 4, 2019

For the second time in her career, Arizona State University College of Nursing and Health Innovation Professor Rebecca Lee has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholar Grant.

Upon finding out about her rare accomplishment, she said she was “flabbergasted.” Professor Rebecca Lee, Fulbright Scholar ASU Professor Rebecca Lee Download Full Image

“When I started investigating whether this was the right program for me, the Fulbright counselors told me that it was very competitive for a first-time award (the Core Scholars Award), but practically unheard of for people to receive a second award, and never to the same country. I decided to go for it anyway, and I was really just agog that I received it a second time,” Lee said.

The grant will allow her to travel to Mexico to build on her previous research around obesity and Type 2 diabetes, which has become a major problem there, so much so that it required national intervention.

“The past administration under President Enrique Peña Nieto created a national policy to deploy funding and support to each of the Mexican states to improve health care, behaviors and environments to stem this epidemic,” Lee said.

Her project will explore the capacity for implementing mobile health technologies in the country. She’ll be working with her colleagues from the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico.

The end goal is to use the information collected to create clear recommendations to help guide future mobile health programming and policy and ultimately improve health outcomes for the Mexican people.

Lee says she’s incredibly grateful for this opportunity to combine her passion for policy with her research on physical activity, obesity and diabetes in Mexico.

Her colleagues and peers in the college are just as delighted for her.

“This is a significant accomplishment and we are so thrilled for Dr. Lee and at the thought of the positive impact this important work will have on our neighbors to the south and beyond,” said Judith Karshmer, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

The Fulbright Scholar Program “aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” It is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.

According to the organization, more than 380,000 “Fulbrighters” have participated in the program since its inception in 1946. It is a distinguished group of alumni including Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, MacArthur Fellows and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipients.

Amanda Goodman

Media relations officer, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation