Computing Takes the Prize

Theorist Nobuo Sato awarded JSA Postdoctoral Prize for research aimed at computing the theory of proton structure

Nobuo SatoNEWPORT NEWS, VA – It’s not unusual for anyone to shop online at Amazon, but one young scientist went to the website looking for more than a favorite book. University of Connecticut Postdoctoral Researcher Nobuo Sato plans to conduct theoretical research in nuclear physics using the online retailer’s computing services, and he has been awarded the 2017 JSA Postdoctoral Research Grant to do it.

The $10,000 grant has been awarded annually since 2008 for projects that will benefit the research program at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. Sato’s project will apply his knowledge of one of the most sophisticated theories ever devised - Quantum Chromodynamics - to understand the protons and neutrons in the heart of everyday matter. Quantum Chromodynamics is the theory of the particles and forces that build our universe at the scale of protons and neutrons inside atoms.

“Today, we know that the protons are made of quarks and gluons. And what we ultimately want to know is how these particles called quarks and gluons are situated inside protons,” he explained. Sato is contributing to that effort by extracting very specific scenarios from the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics that match the scenarios that experimenters produce in Jefferson Lab’s research program.

For instance, his calculations involve so-called parton distribution functions and transverse momentum distributions. These are mathematical descriptions derived from Quantum Chromodynamics that, simply put, can describe how the quarks and gluons move inside the proton and how they are extracted in relation to the probe being used to measure them in experiments.

He says these quantities are dynamic and their extraction depends on the experimental conditions. So, for each experiment, the connection of parton distribution functions and transverse momentum distributions to experimental measurements will need to be re-calculated from the theory in order to compare with the experimental data. Sato said he plans to use part of the research grant to conduct the calculations by accessing the computing power offered by Amazon Web Services.

“One needs to use a highly elaborate data analysis framework. We have to use data and the theory in order to compare, and the theoretical calculations are computationally expensive,” Sato explained. “This where having some support to be able to access larger computing resources helps. It will allow me to work more on the theory side, rather than spending so much time on the computation. I can spend more time on trying to unravel nucleon structure.”

The JSA Postdoctoral Research Grant is awarded annually by the Jefferson Lab Users Group Board of Directors. The group represents the scientists who come to Jefferson Lab to use its unique facilities to conduct research.

In making the award, the board judges each applicant on his or her record of accomplishment in physics, proposed use of the research grant and the likelihood of further accomplishments in the Jefferson Lab research fields. The grant is funded by the JSA Initiatives Fund program, which is provided by Jefferson Science Associates to support programs, initiatives and activities that further the scientific outreach, and promote the science, education and technology missions of Jefferson Lab and benefit the laboratory’s user community.

According to Larry Weinstein, outgoing Chair of the Users Group and professor and eminent scholar at Old Dominion University, Sato’s project was one of many competitive applications.

“This year's postdoc prize entries spanned a remarkable range of topics, from detector development to theoretical analysis,” Weinstein said. “Once again, it was difficult choosing the winner from the superb array of well-qualified applications.”

“I’m very pleased to get something that is going to be helpful for doing this research,” Sato said. “What I’m doing is part of this 12 GeV era, and I am happy to be able to use my skills to help achieve the common goals.”


Contact: Kandice Carter,, 757-269-7263


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