Nikki Sanford in front of Duke ChapelThis summer I’m working at Duke University/Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL), where I am conducting research. TUNL is the nuclear physics and astrophysics collaboration between Duke, UNC- Chapel Hill, and NC State. In the past 3 weeks I’ve been here, I’ve learned about the various labs and instruments on site, such as the particle accelerators, Free Electron Laser, and the Lab for Experimental Nuclear Astrophysics.

My research deals with simulation models for the Helium and Lead Observatory (HALO) at SNOLAB in Ontario, Canada. HALO is being constructed to study neutrinos emitted from supernovae. Billions of neutrinos pass through us daily, but with their tiny size and neutral charge, we don’t even feel them! 

Bursts of neutrinos shoot out of supernovae first, up to a few hours before photons which make them visible. The high-density nucleus of HALO’s lead blocks can react with a neutrino to form a neutron, which will hit the Helium-3 detectors and produce a signal. So this can let scientists know where to look for a supernovae, and watch the entire explosion. 

I’ve been editing and running simulation programs for HALO, which will let scientists know what signals to expect when an influx of neutrinos comes into the detector. To do this, I’m using Geant4 and ROOT, which are C++ based, CERN developed platforms for simulating and graphing particle interactions. Learning these programs have been challenging, but the work is definitely paying off. I’m currently constructing the water shield around the detector within the simulation program, and testing the neutron counter efficiency. 

I’m having a great time so far at Duke, getting to know all the other interns, and meeting many professors/grad students. I’ll check back next week with updates on everything going on here!