NEWPORT NEWS, VA. – A scientist who studies the intricate relationship between protons and neutrons has been awarded the 2009 JSA Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.
Representatives of the roughly 1,200 scientists who conduct research at Jefferson Lab, the Users Group Board of Directors, announced Patricia Solvignon as the winner of the fellowship. Solvignon currently holds a postdoctoral appointment at Argonne National Lab. She earned a Ph.D. at Temple University and other degrees at Université Blaise Pascal in Clermont Ferrand, France.
Lead author on a recent publication involving neutron spin, Solvignon plans to continue a similar line of research on spin and its role in the force that builds the nucleus of the atom. "We are looking at how the nuclear force is working between protons and neutrons inside the nucleus," she explained.
The $10,000 research grant will go toward the purchase of a stainless steel vacuum glove box for handling material needed for the experiment. The material is a rare isotope of calcium, known as calcium-48, that oxidizes when exposed to oxygen. "To prepare it for the experiment, we need to put it into a vacuum glove box that is very good at keeping oxygen out. We can not do the experiment without the box," Solvignon said.
Due to its rarity, calcium-48 is expensive, at about $150,000 per gram. The isotope contains more neutrons in its nucleus than more common isotopes of calcium, which will allow researchers to both gather more experimental data than other isotopes would provide in the same amount of time and to compare their result to another isotope of calcium.
"We will train with a more abundant isotope, calcium-40, so that when we get calcium-48, we will know how to handle it," Solvignon said. By purchasing and using the specialized box, she and her colleagues can borrow a sample of calcium-48 and return it after the experiment is completed, saving more than $100,000 in experimental cost.
In making the award, the users board judged applicants on their records of accomplishment in physics, proposed uses of the research grant in a high-impact physics program and the likelihood of further accomplishments in the Jefferson Lab research fields.
"It is a pleasure that we have many excellent postdocs working on Jefferson Lab physics, even though it makes our job of evaluating them difficult," said Ron Gilman, board chairman and a professor at Rutgers University. "They were all very good, so it was hard work for us to select a single, best individual."
JSA President and Jefferson Lab Director Hugh Montgomery congratulated the winner, adding, “Patricia is a worthy recipient and an outstanding young physicist. The grant continues our commitment to providing the next generation of scientists with challenging and rewarding research opportunities: ultimately all of society benefits.”
Although Solvignon represents postdoctoral researcher interests on the users board, she was not privy to fellowship deliberations. "It was a big surprise, and I was very happy to get it. I'm fortunate that I work with people who are very supportive, and in particular, John Arrington, my supervisor," she said. "I'm honored to receive the fellowship."
The fellowship was initiated by the Users Group Board of Directors. The research grant is one of the funded projects of the JSA Initiatives Fund, a $0.5M program provided annually by Jefferson Science Associates, LLC. The first JSA poctdoctoral research fellowship was awarded in 2008 to Temple University researcher Brad Sawatzky.