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Physics Ph.D. student receives DOE grad student research award

  • QCD researcher:
    QCD researcher:  Joseph Karpie is a Ph.D. student at William & Mary who studies quantum chromodynamics at Jefferson Lab. He is one of 53 promising graduate students honored with an award by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.  Photo by Joseph McClain
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Joseph Karpie, a Ph.D. student in William & Mary’s Department of Physics, has been named a recipient of an award from the Department of Energy’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program.

He joined the William & Mary program in 2014, after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Karpie is one of 53 graduate students, representing 45 U.S. universities, who have received the DOE award. Karpie studies theoretical and computational aspects of quantum chromodynamics (QCD) at the DOE’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab) in Newport News.

His advisor is Konstantinos Orginos, associate professor of physics at William & Mary, himself a QCD investigator. QCD, Karpie explains, is the study of the strong force, the interactions that hold together the components of the nucleus of the atom.

“Particles such as protons and neutrons are made up of smaller things,” he said. “QCD describes these quarks and gluons and their interactions in a way analogous to the way we describe electricity and magnetism.”

Addressing QCD on a theoretical basis is intensely computational and Karpie and his colleagues make extensive use of the DOE-owned supercomputing clusters at JLab. The Jefferson Lab is an experimental facility, and Karpie spoke about the benefit of having theorists such as himself embedded with the experimenters in the same complex.

“The theorists and the experimenters need to be able to talk to each other,” he said. A theorist who wants to test something strange or interesting in his or her computations needs to confer with an experimentalist on how to test that discovery.

“And it works the other way, too: the experimentalist might have some strange results that they want to confirm with the theorist’s predictions,” he said. “So, having them in the same facility, they go to the same seminars, they can talk to each other during lunch.”

Karpie pointed out that such mealtime collaborations are common, frequent and fruitful: JLab even stocks all its cafeteria tables with pads of paper and pencils.

The SCGSR program was established to help graduate students do a part of their graduate thesis research at a DOE laboratory, such as JLab. A Department of Energy release notes that the award provides support for inbound and outbound travel to the laboratory, and a monthly stipend of up to $3,000 for general living expenses.

 “The SCGSR program prepares graduate students for science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission,” said Steve Binkley, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science.  “We are proud of the accomplishments these outstanding students have already have made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come.”