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Following Craig Mehl's steps

Author: Physics and Nuclear Astrophysics Department

Exciting times to do Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Astrophysics at UWC

Following Craig Mehl's steps

Exciting times to do Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Astrophysics at UWC

From his origins as an undergraduate Physics student at UWC to pursuing PhD studies in the USA

Craig Mehl has received an award by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA (under title “Investigating Nuclear Structure with Fast Neutrons”) as a Research Scholar with  the University of Kentucky (UK) Accelerator Laboratory. Craig remains registered as a PhD student at UWC though and will be supervised by Professors Nico Orce (UWC) and Steven Yates (UK). Nico Orce is the Spokesperson of the first experiment led by an African institution at CERN and Steven Yates is the recipient of the prestigious Glenn T. Seaborg Medal for Nuclear Chemistry. 


While doing his MSc

Craig received an award for `Excellent Presentation' during the Symposium `Few to Many Body–Systems: Models, Methods and Applications' held in Dubna (Russia) last September 2015. As part of UWC having an approved experiment at CERN, Craig became a CERN User last January 2016 after following an extensive safety training and a Workshop in Coulomb-excitation studies. Two other UWC students, Kenzo Abrahams and Makabata Mokgolobotho, also received this honour (they have remarkable stories themselves that will be told at due course). The three of them performed excellently according to the CERN Leader for the ISOLDE facility, Professor Maria Garcia Borge.  During his MSc work, Craig worked on 'Developing a sorting code for Coulomb-excitation data analysis', a project crucial to build the pipe line for exciting new Physics here in South Africa and elsewhere. He did a tremendous job as results from the international referee's comments, Dr Mitch Almond from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA, “In comparison to other (international) students of similar experience, I believe Craig is ahead of the curve with respect to technical abilities.” and gave him a 79% mark. Mr Mehl is currently supporting the Nuclear Physics Group at UWC with data sorting and working on manuscripts to be submitted to high-impact Physics journals. Prof Orce reveals Craig's secret “Craig loves doing Physics, and that's all you need”.


Mr Mehl will be doing his PhD work from the data collected at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland. CERN is arguably the greatest research laboratory ever built by mankind. Craig will be analysing the first experiment ever led by an African Institution (that is UWC) at CERN. Beam request has been submitted to CERN beginning of 2016 and our experiment will run late this year or early 2017. Before flying to the USA, Craig Mehl and Nico Orce will be doing complementary beta-decay experiments at CERN from 17-22 May 2016.  These experiments are led by our collaborators at the University of Valencia (Spain) and will be the first experiment carried out by UWC researchers at CERN. In his PhD study, Craig will determine the nuclear shape of a very exotic isotope, 70Se, of relevance in the most recurrent stellar explosions in the Universe, called X-ray bursts. This investigation will shed light onto how nuclei change shape relatively easily from spherical to oblate (Earth shaped) or prolate (cucumber shaped) or vice versa. Prof Orce talks about the CERN project “From April 2016  UWC will be a full member of the SA-CERN collaboration. This means that we'll have an allocated budget of R400,000 (budget to be confirmed by the Department of Science and Technology) to send many more students to CERN to do their own experiments!”.


Professor Orce further comments, “Craig’s experience with Coulomb theory, computers and data analysis makes Mr Mehl one of the most prepared South African students to achieve success in this exciting UWC/CERN project. But we're not just waiting for it, we keep training our students by setting up and performing similar experiments at iThemba LABS – we're currently running a long campaign of Coulomb-excitation measurements from the beginning of March to early May 2016 –  to those carried out at CERN but with stable nuclei. At CERN we do the exotic ones. We'll all be ready when the time comes!”


Nuclear Lifetimes, Advanced Physics Courses, Workshops and International Conferences

At the University of Kentucky, Mr Mehl will gain hands-on and research skills working closely with one of the few on-campus accelerators in the world (very closely, as the accelerator is part of the Physics & Astronomy Department at UK!). In more detail, he will learn how to measure very short nuclear lifetimes in the femtosecond regime (0.0000000000000001 seconds!), relevant to understanding nuclear structure and nuclear astrophysics. It is striking to know that these shortest nuclear lifetimes are responsible for the age of the oldest objects in the Universe, such as globular clusters!

Prof Orce explains the reasons behind Craig's journey to the USA, “First of all, Craig will enjoy advanced postgraduate Physics courses (Advanced Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Field Theory, etc) not available in South Africa. He'll also have easier access to specialized Workshops and International Conferences. He's already attending the Exotic Beam Summer School in Michigan State University and the Nuclear Structure 2016 international conference in Knoxville (Tennessee) at the end of July 2016. Secondly, we're developing a new research pipeline to  measure nuclear lifetimes at iThemba LABS under the leadership of Professor Smarajit Triambak (SARChi Chair in Nuclear Science) and myself. In particular, lifetime measurements in 70Se will complement our measurements at CERN. Craig's experience is the USA will be very useful to himself and others once he's back. This exchange programme with the UK is open to other UWC students who want to seriously pursue a career in Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Astrophysics. We're building similar exchange programs with other Universities, such as the University of Guelph in Canada, and other institutions working at CERN.” 

Exciting times to join us

Prof Orce encourages students to follow Craig Mehl's steps “It's definitely an exciting time to do Nuclear Physics and/or Nuclear Astrophysics at UWC. Many very talented students and postdocs are joining our group and are similarly being trained to achieve excellence. We'll together become a world-leading institution and help achieving our students' dreams.  The only requirement – to love Physics.”  As Craig does.  Craig's story is a remarkable one forged primarily at UWC. We farewell Craig for the USA and wish him all the best!​


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