The crux of Dr. Peter Dong’s research investigation is to prove the existence of preons, hypothetical particles that make up quarks and leptons. Interactions involving preons theoretically occurs at a characteristic energy scale, and the study aims to find a range of energy scales to define the presence of preons. There are 22 students working on the project, but only three are seniors: Abhiudaya Bhalla (’18), Eric Hersey (’18), and Charles Hultquist (’18). While Dr. Dong mentors them and leads them on camps, alternating groups of students travel to FermiLab each Wednesday to work with mentors there, namely Mr. Lenny Spiegel and Mr. Shawn Zaleski.
“The mentors expect a lot from us, and at times, it may be too much,” said Bhalla, regarding the FermiLab mentors. “But they are always willing to answer each question we have, and we reach a common ground in terms of conceptual difficulty.”
With the new requirements of the SIR program such as annotated bibliographies, Bhalla believes that he has personally benefited from reading so much literature. “That helped us learn C++, which made it easier to pass the test Dr. Dong gave us to test our physics and coding abilities,” he says.
So far, the seniors have been working with preliminary data. However, Bhalla says, “The future looks really good for the juniors, as the process of analyzing data could by automated by the end of next year. By doing so, the overarching project at the Cern laboratory in Switzerland would progress significantly.”
In terms of commitment, the SIR requires regular updates to the server with the addition of more code to analyze the data – at the minimum, at least 10 minutes every day. Ayush Agarwal (’19) says, “The SIR is only for people who are passionate, as it requires a daily commitment and tests your passion daily.” The students expect the investigation’s results to be published and their names to be listed as authors.
From his side, Dr. Dong is grateful to administration and SIR Director Dr. Sanza Kazadi for allowing his SIR to go forward. IMSA President Dr. Torres, previous IMSA principal Dr. Dahleh, and current interim Principal Dr. Hernandez supported Dong’s SIR by allowing him to teach only three classes instead of the typical four so that he focus on this research investigation.
“Dr. Kazadi changed the focus of SIR and emphasized group work and long-term work, which matched the project and had a large positive impact on the project,” said Dong. “Overall, though, the students like each other and they like the material, so it fosters collaboration.”
In a few years, thanks to Dr. Dong and the students who are working with him, we may finally know if preons actually exist.