Alice Ohlson

Tracking Quarks through Plasma

By Stacy Kish on August 4, 2010

Fellow: Alice Ohlson
Hometown: Falls Church, VA
Undergrad: MIT
Graduate school: Yale University
Keywords: Department of Energy, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Office of Science, Graduate Fellow program, Quark, Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider

Growing up in the heart of the Nation’s capital, Alice Ohlson was exposed to a mix of political ideas and opinions. “Our local news is national news and national news is local news,” begins Ohlson. But it was the opportunity to study quantum physics in high school that set her on the track she is on today. “I went to a unique high school and my physics teacher helped me fall in love with particle physics.”

Today Ohlson is a doctoral candidate at Yale University and a DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellow. She is conducting her research at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton N.Y.

Ohlson analyzes the results of high-energy collisions between gold nuclei in the STAR detector. She explains, “At these high energies, protons and neutrons melt into pieces and form a new state of matter called the quark-gluon plasma, which may have existed at the creation of the universe.”

Ohlson studies how very fast quarks move through the quark-gluon plasma. “This will help us better understand the strong nuclear interaction, one of the four fundamental forces of nature,” she said.

In the Standard Model of physics, the four fundamental forces of nature include gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear interaction (holds nuclei together), and the weak nuclear interaction (accounts for nuclear decay).

Ohlson admits this research examines the fundamental building blocks of nature. She contends, “The more we understand the nature that surrounds us, the more we can develop technology to help people.”

“My current research allows me to meld the best parts of particle physics and the best parts of nuclear physics,” said Ohlson. “This fellowship is a fantastic opportunity because it will allow me to explore opportunities beyond what is currently available.” Ohlson’s graduate fellowship is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Stacy Kish is a Science Writer with the Office of Science.