New Traineeship Offers Students Entrée into Accelerator Science

  • Student working on particle accelerator R&D

Four local institutions have partnered on a new traineeship to give students unprecedented access to opportunities in accelerator science

NEWPORT NEWS, VA – Particle accelerators are among the hidden drivers of our modern world. From medical diagnostics and treatments to computer chip manufacturing and oil exploration to discovery sciences, the world’s more than 30,000 particle accelerators underlie many of our modern conveniences. Now, more local students will soon have easier access to the unique job opportunities offered by these remarkable machines. The new Virginia Innovative Traineeships in Accelerators (VITA) is now accepting students.

VITA is a program that will help create a regional workforce development pipeline and increase minority participation in STEM careers. It is a partnership among four higher education and research institutions located in Hampton Roads. It is led by Old Dominion University. ODU is home to the Center for Accelerator Science, an interdisciplinary particle accelerator science research center. The center operates in close partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, another partner in the VITA program. VITA partners Hampton University and Norfolk State University have long offered advanced studies in related STEM disciplines, including nuclear physics topics at Jefferson Lab. Now, VITA will expand these universities’ programs to include accelerator science and technology.

“VITA will certainly benefit Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia. The field of accelerator science is growing rapidly, and there is a tremendous market in need of a trained workforce,” said Jean Delayen, a jointly appointed staff scientist at Jefferson Lab and professor of physics and director of the Center for Accelerator Science at ODU.

Over the next five years, VITA will provide 23 two-year graduate traineeships to students in the STEM fields at partner universities. Traineeship awards will include funds to cover a stipend for living expenses and tuition needed for a master's degree or for the first two years of study in a Ph.D. program. VITA students will focus on courses of study related to particle accelerator science and gain invaluable hands-on experience in particle accelerator technology, operations and/or research and development.

“These fields require highly trained workers, who may not otherwise have access to the courses and other highly specialized training needed to develop fully into practicing engineers and scientists,” said Geoff Krafft, a Jefferson Lab senior staff scientist and the lab’s principal investigator in the partnership.

One of the goals of the partnership is to increase the pool of minority participation in STEM careers while also helping high-achieving students pursue careers in accelerator science and engineering. Norfolk State University and Hampton University are two of the top historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the nation. Both have strong physical science and engineering programs of study. VITA will allow these universities to now expand their students’ opportunities to include specialized topics in accelerator science and technology.

“Hampton University’s Department of Physics currently has a number of faculty and students involved in theoretical and experimental nuclear physics at Jefferson Lab,” said Demetris Geddis, the assistant dean of HU’s School of Engineering and Technology. “The VITA program will expand research activity at the lab by incorporating faculty and research engineers from HU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. This effort will not only increase HU’s research productivity, but it will also expose under-represented minority faculty and students to the field of accelerator engineering.”

“We are very excited about this partnership which will provide our students with the opportunity to expand their research portfolio and receive training from highly skilled professionals at Jefferson Lab” said Rasha Morsi, a professor and graduate program coordinator of computer science at Norfolk State University. “Norfolk State Engineering, Physics, and Center for Materials Research faculty have established programs in ultrafast laser spectroscopy, optical spectroscopy, nano-plasmonics and lasers, among other cutting-edge research. The VITA program will contribute to workforce development in the region and will help NSU students gain research experience in accelerator science and engineering as well as allow them to work with professionals in this field.”

Jefferson Lab has a long history of supporting graduate education in accelerator science and technology. Since 1994, nine master's theses and 64 Ph.D. theses on accelerator science and technology have been completed at the lab. In VITA, Jefferson Lab will provide additional expertise and hands-on research training for students. During summer sessions, it’s expected that traineeship students will spend the majority of their time on-site at the lab, working alongside experienced professionals in their chosen specialty.

We are excited, because the traineeship program will fully fund the students, including U.S. Particle Accelerator School courses,” said Andrei Seryi, Jefferson Lab’s associate director for Accelerator Operations, Research and Development. “It will help us to attract students into fields that are fundamental to Jefferson Lab's Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility accelerator, such as accelerator science, engineering, superconductivity, radiofrequency science and engineering, and cryogenics.”

The VITA program was made possible by a $3 million grant from the Department of Energy.

“This traineeship award may also benefit from future efforts initiated through another DOE pilot diversity program to boost undergraduate education in accelerator science that are under development by the same university partners – ODU, HU and NSU,” said Paul Sorensen, program manager of the Fundamental Symmetries program in the Office of Nuclear Physics within DOE’s Office of Science.

Delayen said VITA builds on the DOE’s and the partners’ commitment to expand opportunities for qualified students while advancing particle accelerator science.

“With VITA, we hope to get a bigger and better pool of students who can one day contribute to the Department of Energy workforce,” he explained. “The graduate students accepted into the program will get to work with leading scientists at Jefferson Lab, write a thesis and do research.”

The program is currently recruiting its first students. Qualified individuals have recently begun or will soon begin a master's degree program or their first two years of study in a Ph.D. program in STEM fields at VITA partner universities. Students who are interested in the program may contact the program lead at their respective university:

Further Reading:
Department of Energy Announces $17.5 Million for Particle Accelerators for Science & Society and Workforce Training
Department of Energy Announces $3 Million for Pilot Diversity Program | Department of Energy
DOE: How Particle Accelerators Work

Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office,


Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. JSA is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. (SURA).

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit