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Physics Research Leads to Goldwater Scholarship for CNS senior

Physics Research Leads to Goldwater Scholarship for CNS senior

Will Berdanier shares his excitement about being named a Goldwater Scholar.

Will Berdanier, a senior physics major, was recently awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate research awards in the nation.  I sat down with Berdanier to ask him about his recent award, his research and his future.

Will-296x300Korzekwa: Tell me a bit about your research at the university?

Berdanier: I work in the group of professor Gennady Shvets in the Institute for Fusion Studies. I actually started the project I wrote about in my Goldwater essay at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a national laboratory associated with Princeton University that primarily studies nuclear fusion.

Can you tell me a little more about nuclear fusion?

One approach to creating sustainable fusion is something called "inertial confinement fusion," which seeks to achieve fusion energy by compressing a pellet of fuel to extremely high temperatures and pressures. In order to achieve this, most current facilities use lasers to compress the target, but this is fundamentally limited in terms of efficiency. Many scientists at Princeton and in the fusion community in general have proposed using relativistic beams of heavy ions to compress the target, which could in principle produce far more net energy than that gained by using lasers. Before the ion beam strikes the target, the beam must be compressed in volume by several orders of magnitude, and for this compression to be successful, the beam must be neutralized. Using a suite of simulation codes called LSP, I demonstrated that by propagating the ion beam pulse through a weak background of plasma, the beam could be neutralized very effectively and at a low energy cost. I also compared with many other schemes and demonstrated that this was the minimal energy scheme that neutralized the beam sufficiently.

What are you up to now? Any recent research?

More recently, I've been working on a project to use a silicon-carbide waveguide to diagnose extremely short electron bunches. I'm currently working with Dr. Simeon Trendafilov and Dr. Vladimir Khudik, two research scientists in the group, to calculate the radiation produced by an electron bunch as it decelerates through the waveguide. The radiation should depend on the shape of the electron bunch, so this could serve as a useful diagnostic for particle accelerators, as the electron beam would leave the accelerator, radiate through our silicon-carbide waveguide, and then we could infer the shape of the beam pulse from the radiation profile.

When did your interest in science, physics and mathematics start?

My interest in science and mathematics was really kindled by my participating in science fairs as kid. I remember being amazed by airplanes and first learning about the force of lift and Bernoulli's Principle (and the limitations of this explanation!). I was actually so interested by flight that I decided to build my own wind tunnel from cement tubing and a hair dryer and try to investigate the drag caused by different wing pitches and angles. I was always drawn to science because it could explain, in a breathtakingly elegant fashion, the mysteries of the world around me. I loved being able to understand the "why." Later, I was drawn to physics because of its mathematical rigor and predictive capacity — it always seemed to me that if you were able to predict that something existed before you ever knew it was there, then you really understood what was going on.

What are your career goals?

My career goal is to become a theoretical physicist, working either at a national laboratory or at a major university. I want to someday lead a team of physicists working on open problems in theoretical physics, leaning towards hard condensed matter physics or plasma physics.

What does being awarded a Goldwater Scholarship mean to you?

Being awarded a Goldwater Scholarship is wonderful recognition for the research I've done so far, and I'm very humbled. To me, the Goldwater Scholarship represents encouragement towards my goal of becoming a theoretical physicist — that the faculty here at UT and the Goldwater committee think I'm capable of becoming an established scientist. It's a really great honor, and I'm tremendously excited about it.

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Friday, 18 September 2020

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