Pushing Boundaries in Particle Physics

  • Undergraduate student finds unexpected benefits in JSA-funded assistantship
  • Undergraduate student finds unexpected benefits in JSA-funded assistantship
  • Undergraduate student finds unexpected benefits in JSA-funded assistantship

Undergraduate student finds unexpected benefits in JSA-funded assistantship

 NEWPORT NEWS, VA—Hannah Valenty's typical high school AP physics class ignited her passion for mixing logic and creativity to solve problems. Today, through her research on proton fragmentations, she is making strides at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in understanding the fundamental building blocks of matter. 

 As a recipient of the Jefferson Science Associates (JSA) Minority/Female Undergraduate Research Assistantship (M/FURA), she analyzes data collected by the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) Large Acceptance Spectrometer (CLAS12) to study the intricate dynamics of protons and their constituent particles.

 Valenty describes her research using CLAS12 data as a "multi-dimensional analysis to identify kinematic trends and dependencies of the proton.

 "My research matters because it pushes the boundaries of the current understanding of the proton and its constituent particles," Valenty said. "Also, as a contribution to the CLAS12 team, my project is a link to scientists worldwide, who together prove that collaboration is key for success."

Valenty loved the multidisciplinary reach of physicists and often heard that a physics degree could take her anywhere. As she began preparing for college, those words stuck with her.

"These factors inspired me to make the jump into a physics program, and I have not looked back since,” said Valenty.

For Valenty, her mentor, Fatiha Benmokhtar, has been an ongoing inspiration. 

"Dr. Benmokhtar works tirelessly to help students and is always kind when explaining the intricacies of particle physics," Valenty said. "Her patience and intelligence have impressed me countless times. It has been an honor to work under her."

At Duquesne University, Benmokhtar is grateful for the additional support M/FURA has provided Valenty and the physics department.

"Hannah joined my group during her freshman year in 2020. She started performing analysis that resulted in her first publication as the first author!" Benmokhtar said. "After that, I shifted her to work on electron-proton scattering data from CLAS12 to study proton structure.

"M/FURA allowed her to divide her time between coursework and research without worrying too much about external support," Benmokhtar said. "M/FURA also helped support part of Valenty's travel expenses to the American Physical Society’s Division of Nuclear Physics meeting in Hawaii last November.

"This has been a great experience and good exposure for our small but strong physics department, encouraging future female and minority students to join."

The assistantship provides monetary support, professional networking, and community engagement as participants work toward their research goals.  

"It allowed me to continue my research and graduate on a high note, providing a satisfying conclusion to my undergraduate career," said Valenty. "I appreciate the opportunity to explore particle physics and am grateful for the people I've met."

For prospective M/FURA applicants, Valenty encourages, "Absolutely go for it! Take a chance to continue your passion and explore unanswered questions. It's an opportunity you don't want to miss."  

Benmokhtar echoes a similar sentiment to new faculty mentors and encourages them to be patient while getting to know their mentees. She reinforces the importance of mentorship in the development of young scientists.  

"Try to see the project from their perspective to formulate the problems and the questions so students will understand," Benmokhtar said. "Undergraduate students are the future generations and the future of the STEM fields. 

"It has been a blessing working with Hannah all these years," Benmokhtar said. “She is smart, hardworking, and has high ethical values—an important member of the team. We will miss her after graduation."

Through her research, the M/FURA program, and Benmokhtar's mentorship, Valenty contributes to understanding subatomic particles, fueled by curiosity and collaboration. 

The M/FURA award is available to students of female or minority status enrolled full-time in a physics major. Interested candidates can find additional information at this link: JSA Minority/Female Undergraduate Research Assistantship | Jefferson Lab (jlab.org)

The M/FURA award is supported by the Initiatives Fund Program, a JSA commitment to support programs, initiatives and activities that further the scientific outreach and promote the science, education and technology of Jefferson Lab. The JSA IF also benefits the lab’s extended user community in ways that complement Jefferson Lab’s basic and applied research missions.

Further Reading

Journal publication: https://journals.aps.org/prc/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevC.107.065203

Fatiha Benmokhtar (duq.edu)

School of Science and Engineering (duq.edu)

Contact Michelle Alvarez, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, malvarez@jlab.org



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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 https://energy.gov/science