James Monahan, Physics '11
Please tell us a little about yourself
I was born and raised in Culpeper, Virginia, which is a small town almost unmolested by DC commuters. While in high school I developed an intense interest in physics thanks to my time at the Governor's School and some excellent teachers. I decided to pursue physics at the university level as a way to work on exciting projects in a field I enjoy. Drexel appealed to me because I liked the emphasis on experience and was drawn in by the bright lights of Philadelphia. When not in the lab I enjoy going out and experiencing the city, either by myself or with some friends. What’s your current research project or area of study?
My current research project is working with Dr. Lane in the High-Energy Physics Lab on developing a calibration flasher for Cherenkov water detectors for large particle physics experiments probing neutrino physics. Neutrinos are almost massless, neutral particles that interact only via the weak force and are useful probes into physics beyond the Standard Model. Since they only interact by the weak force, they are very difficult to detect and so large volume (megaton scale) detectors with incredible sensitivity are necessary. One component of these detectors are huge arrays of photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) looking for Cherenkov radiation in water. Cherenkov radiation is produced when a charged particle moves through a medium faster than the speed of light in that medium. Cherenkov radiation is a cone of light that gives information about the energy and direction of travel of the incoming particle. This information is very useful to identify particles and helps distinguish between muon activity and neutrino events or proton decays. Currently the methods used to characterize PMTs are simple and rely on light sources that do not closely reproduce Cherenkov light. Common light sources have longer wavelengths than Cherenkov light and do not have the cone shape. This project seeks to replicate these distinctive characteristics to allow more precise PMT characterization and modeling of the detector. The goal of my project is to create a Cherenkov cone in a medium that is small enough to fit in a university lab and then use filters and lenses to simulate the cone that would be produced in a giant, megaton water detector. Have you received any awards or scholarships while here at Drexel?
• AJ Drexel Academic Scholarship
• Students Tackling Advanced Research (STAR) Scholar
• Group of Research on the Energetics of the Ionized Medium (GREMI) Participant
• Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research Recipient for Cherenkov Calibration Flasher Project Were you provided with opportunities to travel?
I have been very fortunate in opportunities to travel for research. The summer of my freshman year, while I was working with Dr. Lane as a STAR Scholar on PMT characterization and calibration, I traveled to Japan to work on site at the KamLAND experiment. The next year for co-op I worked at the University of Tübingen in Germany on PMT characterization, calibration, and encapsulation development for the Double Chooz experiment, I even got to go to the collaboration headquarters in Givet, France to give a presentation with the rest of the research group. The co-op in Germany gave me a chance to do some exploration of Europe in my spare time. The next year for co-op I went to Adelphi, Maryland to work in the Army Research Lab. The next year for the GREMI project I went to Orléans, France to attend a collaboration on the applications of plasma research. My final co-op was for Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, California. While out there I lived in San Francisco and commuted out to the lab site and was able to really enjoy the area. How was your co-op experience?
The co-op experience has been a profound experience for me. Not only the obvious benefit of traveling new and exciting places, but mostly the ability to actually work in the field and see some benefit to what I was learning in the classroom. Co-op allowed me to meet others in the field and talk to them, which expanded my knowledge of both physics and the world. It let me explore different areas of research and figure out which ones I liked and I got to compare working in a Defense lab vs. an Energy lab vs. an academic environment vs. a more industrial one. Each new experience taught me a little more about where I wanted to go with my career and myself. Co-op allowed me to step out of the classroom and into the lab, sometimes one that is deep in a mountain (KamLAND), and actually carry out my own experiments and learn about the universe hands-on, which is what I really love. What has made your experience at Drexel “special” or “unique?
The amount and variety of research that I have been able to do and the places I have gone in the pursuit of that have been very special. Working with Dr. Lane in the High-Energy Lab for so long has enabled me to really dig into a field of physics that I probably would not have been exposed to if I went to another university. This ability to explore the practical implementation of physics with the academic reinforcement of classes is a very effective method of learning for myself and helped me figure out what I want to do with my professional life. Going to school in Philadelphia let me meet many exciting people and do interesting things in the city so that I didn't need to travel a continent away to have a new and exciting adventure. The people I have met at the university and while out on co-op have made my time at Drexel very meaningful and enjoyable. Why would you recommend the Physics program at Drexel for undergraduate school?
The emphasis on practical research is the main advantage for pursuing physics as an undergraduate at Drexel. This lets you get into the lab and figure out if this is really what you want to pursue for your career, a question that is really difficult to answer coming straight out of high school. Those that decide that research is their path will be aided greatly by the support that the department gives. The co-op program gives you a very good framework to begin with for setting up research experiences that will be much more in depth than the shorter summer research experiences that are more commonplace elsewhere. The faculty in this department are excellent at aiding students with an interest in research, finding opportunities for pursuing research and helping them take full advantage of those opportunities. What advice do you have for a high school student looking for an undergraduate program?
To a high school student looking for an undergraduate program, I would say that experience is far more valuable than your books. Your undergraduate career is much more than completing credits for your diploma. Anyone can go to a book to look up what they need, but your experiences are yours alone and will help you far more in this time of transition.