Beise

Professor's Work with Quarks Earns Honors

While most people were suntanning on the beach this summer, associate professor Elizabeth Beise was 25 feet underground in Newport News, Va., trying to unlock the mystery of the quark.

Scientists already know that protons and neutrons, the building blocks of the nucleus of an atom, are made up of tiny particles called quarks. But little is known about the behavior of these particles.

Because of her work at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Beise received the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award, an honor given to one outstanding woman physicist each year.

Beise is the second faculty member from the campus's physics department to win the award professor Ellen Williams won in 1990.

'I was really surprised,' Beise said. She found out about the award two weeks ago.

Beise will receive $2,500, plus $4,000 in travel expenses to give lectures at four different institutions of her choice within the United States this spring.

The Goeppert-Mayer Award is only given to women who have earned their doctorate in the past 10 years. Beise got her doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1988 and worked for the California Institute of Technology before coming to campus in 1993.

At the Jefferson Lab, Beise and her colleagues, who come from universities all over the country, study the composition of protons through a method called parity violation. They are most concerned with certain types of quarks, called strange quarks, and how they contribute to the protons, Beise said.

'This is really the first experiment of its type to investigate this,' Beise said. 'That's what's kind of exciting about it.'

Quarks are held together in protons by spring-like particles called gluons. Quarks account for very little of the mass of a proton the rest is from the gluons and 'quark-antiquark' pairs that spontaneously pop into existence from the energy in the gluons, Beise said.

How these quark pairs contribute to properties of the proton such as the spin, magnetic moment and charge distribution is not known, she said.

Beise is taking the semester off from teaching to concentrate on research through a Graduate Research Board fellowship.

'I like to teach, but research is really pretty exciting,' she said. 'There's something really exciting about seeing this data come in and not knowing what it's going to say.'