Tom Parisi, Office of Public Affairs
September 3, 2002
DeKalb, Ill--Gerald Blazey, a Northern Illinois University physics professor, has been named a spokesperson for one of the world's premier experiments in particle physics.
Fellow scientists and engineers at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Batavia elected Blazey co-spokesperson for the prominent DZero collaboration. The two-year appointment begins this week.
DZero is one of two proton/antiproton particle collider experiments at Fermilab, where scientists are exploring the subatomic universe using the world's most powerful particle accelerator, known as the Tevatron. The Tevatron effectively uses electric power with almost 2 trillion volts to hurl protons and antiprotons toward each other at nearly the speed of light in a four-mile underground ring.
Scientists study the particle collisions for traces of matter that have never before been documented. The DZero detector, named after the section of the Tevatron ring in which it is located, could be likened to a three-story microscope used to study matter at the tiniest scales accessible with today's accelerator technology.
Nearly 600 of the world's top physicists and engineers participate in the DZero collaboration. Blazey joins Fermilab physicist John Womersley as a co-spokesperson for the project. They are responsible for operations of the particle detector, analysis of data and preparation for the next detector upgrade. Additionally, the spokespersons represent the experiment to the outside world.
"Basically, we help to ensure the experiment delivers world-class physics in a timely way," Blazey said. "It's a big challenge, but it is an honor to work with so many bright, clever and knowledgeable people. Being spokesperson is a bit like being chairman of a large non-profit organization, where everyone is motivated by a higher good--in this case the pursuit of knowledge."
In the 1990s, the DZero group was involved in the discovery of the top quark, a milestone in quantum physics. Other work by the collaboration has resulted in precision measurements of the electroweak theory and detailed studies of the internal structure of protons. All of these findings have had significant impact on the field of physics and scientific understanding of the subatomic world.
Ongoing experiments are anticipated to produce more discoveries that will shed light on how our universe works. The most elusive prize in particle physics is known as the Higgs boson, also known as "the God particle." Confirming its existence would help explain why matter has mass, or more simply, why everything is.
"Over the next five to six years, there will be a chance that the Higgs particle can be discovered at Fermilab," Blazey said.
Blazey arrived at NIU in 1996, having worked previously as a full-time Fermilab scientist. He played a major role in working on the physics department's successful Ph.D. proposal. In 2000, he was named a Presidential Research Professor, NIU's highest honor for research.
Last year Blazey was named co-director of the newly established Northern Illinois Center for Accelerator and Detector Development (NICADD). The scientific center at NIU is dedicated to the development of a new generation of particle accelerators and detectors at Fermilab.
"Clearly, the election of Gerald Blazey as co-spokesperson for the DZero group represents a major recognition of his contribution to this international project," said Frederick Kitterle, dean of the NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "This is an honor as well as a major responsibility, and it also reflects well on the other members of the NIU physics faculty."
A number of NIU faculty are involved in experiments at Fermilab, including Professor David Hedin, who was among the founding members of the DZero group in 1983 and continues to work on the project. Additionally, five graduate students are working on the Fermilab experiment, and nearly 125 undergraduates have contributed to the project over the years.
"Jerry Blazey's rise to lead the DZero experiment is based upon his 15 years of major contributions to many areas of the experiment, including detector construction and data analysis and his leading role in the detector upgrade," Hedin said.
During the past five years, Blazey directed about 50 physicists and engineers in the upgrade of the detector trigger, which each second must process 7 million particle collisions and identify the 50 most promising events for storage on data tapes.
Blazey said basic research invariably leads to practical applications. Past research at Fermilab contributed to the development of such technologies as magnetic resonance imaging and neutron therapy in cancer treatment. "It's too early to tell what benefits our current research will bring," Blazey said, "but history tells us basic research always leads to new technologies."