York Scientist Off To National Lab

Four years ago when Dr. Marcia V. Keizs became president of York College she branded the college as being, “on the move.” Dr. James Popp, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Physical Sciences, is the latest faculty member who has given literal meaning of sorts to that mantra, taking the York scholarship on the road.

Popp has accepted an offer as a guest scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FNAL) in Batavia, IL, for the upcoming academic year.

“I have been offered a major opportunity,” said Popp. “This opportunity would allow me to advance the Muon-to-Electron Conversion Experiment (MU2E). This is an exciting opportunity for me as a York faculty member as no one else in CUNY is doing this type of research.”

Provost Ivelaw Lloyd Griffith agrees.
“Dr. Popp’s invitation from the Fermi National Lab to be a guest scientist for a year is an outstanding tribute to the remarkable talents of this young scientist and a reflection of the growing research strength of the College,” said Dr. Griffith. “It augurs well for the strengthening of the research pursuits not only of the School of Arts and Sciences, but of York College overall, which is part of my general intent.”

Professor Popp, whose research area is experimental elementary particle physics, has taught physics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels over the course of his career. His topics have included mechanics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, optics, quantum mechanics, solid state physics and elementary particle physics.

“I have a strong interest in finding practical applications for particle detector technologies,” he has said. “I have recently become involved with health and environmental physics research. Teaching physics at the graduate and undergraduate level is of particular importance, both in broadening & deepening my investigations, and mentoring future scientists.”

In explaining the project, which is requiring time away from his regular schedule at York, the physicist explained that it will only enhance York’s stature in the higher education community.

“This prestigious opportunity (will) increase the visibility of York College and its faculty as well as its students’ contribution to an important international elementary particle physics experiment,” said Popp. “The Mu2e experiment at FNAL is a world-class project to search for the rare and as-yet-unobserved decay of a muon (an elementary particle) directly into an electron in the field of nucleus.”

According to the physics professor, the search for muon to electron conversion has been carried out for more than half a century, with the current limit at less than one event in 1013 decays. Mu2e, which he says, “lies at the high-intensity frontier of particle physics with the goal of being sensitive to one event in 1017 – a quantum leap in particle beam and detector technology.”

Popp, a senior member of the Mu2e Collaboration, has over a decade of experience working on the development of the Mu2e apparatus and is a co-author of the simulation software for the experiment.

“The result of this experiment will have a profound effect on our understanding of the fundamental laws of Nature and the origin of the Universe,” he explained. “This is a critical time for the experiment. The Mu2e experiment has passed its first major stage. The proposal and conceptual Design 0 for Mu2e at Fermilab have been accepted by the Laboratory and the Department of Energy.”

Popp, who holds two undergraduate degrees, one in physics, the other in mathematics, as well as the masters and doctorate in physics, says the objective of the time he will spend at FNAL will be “to utilize laboratory resources to apply continuous effort” to develop the designs of the Mu2e muon beamline and detectors so that in a year’s time the Collaboration can produce Conceptual Design 1.

His main task will be to advance the Mu2e computer simulation effort and the design and prototyping of the primary muon production target. The design and construction for the project will cost an estimated $180 to 240 million over the period 2009-2016.  Data collection will continue for at least another four years.

The versatile scientist who also has expertise in Ultra-relativistic heavy ion collision physics and in Relativistic Plasmas will remain in close touch with students in his Physics 495 class as well as York colleagues with whom he has formed a research group. A select group of these students will also continue to carry out computational and hardware projects in the professor’s lab at York.

“I am delighted that Dr. Popp’s students here at York will be beneficiaries of his engagements at Fermi,” said Provost Griffith. “He will continue mentoring them during the year he’s there.”

Popp is also proud of the work the college is doing in the field.

“York College offers graduate students throughout CUNY the special opportunity to carry out research in experimental elementary particle physics,” he revealed. “[It’s] an area of science at York which is virtually unique throughout the University.”

Popp’s FNAL connection will also impact York students in a tangible way. According to Professor Popp, undergraduate students who excel at the tasks carried out in his laboratory will be recommended for internship at FNAL.”

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