K-State Physics Grad Invited to Meeting of Nobel Laureates

Mark Smith, a Kansas State University doctoral student in high-energy physics, was selected to attend the 55th Lindau Meeting of Nobel Laureates and Students June 26-July 1 in Lindau, Germany

Smith, Topeka, was one of 60 outstanding graduate students in the United States selected by the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Oak Ridge Associated Universities to attend.  His sponsor is the Department of Energy's Office of Science, which covered all costs of his attending the meeting. 

The winners of the Nobel Prize have met each year since 1951 in Lindau, and in recent years, the three U.S. agencies have sponsored a group of top young U.S. scientists to join the laureates for weeklong discussions of sciences and medicine. 

The structure of the meeting is such that the Nobel Laureates present lectures on a topic of their choice related to chemistry, physics or medicine during morning sessions, and laureates and students mix in the less formal small-group discussions during afternoon and evening sessions. Smith is in his third year of high-energy physics graduate education.  "Attending this meeting was a wonderful honor for me," he said.  "We heard Nobel Prize winners make presentations, and were able to talk informally with them.  It was a week of wide-ranging science discussions in an international group.  It was very exciting." 

For six weeks in the summer 2005, Smith's research project took data at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago as part of the large experiment called D Zero.  Kansas State University is a member of the consortium of 90 leading research-oriented universities, the Universities Research Association Inc., that oversees Fermilab as a national research facility. 

Fermilab houses the most powerful physics research tool in the world, the Tevatron proton/antiproton particle accelerator.  Within its four-mile underground ring of the accelerator, subatomic particles are hurled from opposite directions at nearly the speed of light.  The collisions reproduce the energy environment that was present at the beginning of the universe.  Researchers collect immense amounts of data from collisions and examine the data for indications of new building blocks of matter or new forces at work. 

A major physics problem that can be studied at Fermilab is symmetry breaking and Smith's research is a symmetry-breaking study.  He studies the B meson particle, specifically, a BS meson. 

K-State high-energy physics professor Tim Bolton said the BS meson is one of only three or four systems known in nature that displays a rare symmetry-breaking property known as "CP violation."  Studying BS meson gives scientists a little laboratory in which to consider the matter-antimatter symmetry-breaking event that occurred after the Big Bang. 

The Bs meson could hold a clue to understanding why we now live in a universe made of matter instead of an antimatter universe.  The antimatter has disappeared, says Bolton.  "It's gone, and it's been gone for a long, long time." 

At Fermilab, Smith helped lead a large data collection team, an international group of postdoctoral researchers, physicists and other graduate students. 

The B meson studies are an aspect of a huge and enduring experiment at Fermilab called the "D Zero experiment" - more than 500 scientists from institutions on four continents participate in this multi-hundred million dollar experiment.  In 1995, D Zero scientists found first evidence of the existence of the top quark, a key particle. 

In April, Smith presented ‘Heavy Quark Studies Using B+ - >J/Psi K*’ at the American Physical Society's meeting in Tampa, Fla.  "Being selected to present at APS was a tribute to Mark's research," said Bolton.  "It means that his colleagues on D Zero think he's doing something very interesting." 

Smith's K-State major professor is Eckhard von Toerne, who has been doing research at a laboratory in Bonn, Germany.  Smith toured the lab following the Lindau meeting. 

Smith is a graduate of Seaman High School.  He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.  He earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics with honors from Washburn University.  His wife, Christina, is a K-State doctoral student in statistics, also from Topeka. 

Mark Smith is the son of Darlene Smith and the late Walter Smith Jr., Topeka.  Christina Smith is the daughter of Thomas and Doris Hobbs, Topeka.