Two physics students win presentation awards at APS April Meeting

Elias Mettner and Nadia Talbi, both conducting research in high energy physics at UW–Madison, won undergraduate presenter awards at the American Physical Society’s April Meeting.

The meeting, held in Sacramento April 3-6, included seven undergraduate oral presentation sessions with six to eight students in each session. The top two students from each session earned “Top Presenter” awards. Mettner and Talbi were the only two UW–Madison students who gave oral presentations, and both won awards.

profile photo of Elias Mettner
Elias Mettner

Mettner is a physics major working with scientist Abdollah Mohammadi. His talk was titled “Pair Production and Hadron Photoproduction Backgrounds at the Cool Copper Collider.”

The Cool Copper Collider is a proposed electron-positron collider that will help scientists to explore the Higgs boson even further. The electron-positron beam will have some natural decay that converts into particles and is recorded by the detector. Mettner’s research asks how this beam background will impact the detector.

“The detector will record this background, and it could take the place of the data we want or make it harder to reconstruct data,” Mettner says. “It’s important to make sure that the backgrounds that will come into the detector using this new design will not cause any issues, otherwise the benefits of this collider design cannot be put to their maximum use.”

Mettner had been interested in physics from a young age and comes from a family of teachers who encouraged him to explore his academic interests. Upon entering UW–Madison, he jumped at the chance to conduct research in particle physics. He joined the UW CMS Collaboration in his freshman year through the Undergraduate Research Scholars program and began his project with the Cool Copper Collider soon after. He was also awarded the Sophomore Research Fellowship for his junior year and the Hilldale Research Fellowship for his upcoming senior year.

a woman stands in front of a screen with a powerpoint presentation title slide showing
Nadia Talbi presents at APS April Meeting

Talbi is an astronomy-physics major working in physics professor Tulika Bose’s group and mentored by postdoc Charis Koraka. Her talk, “A Search for Vector-Like Leptons: Compact Analysis,” covered work she has done through a Thaxton Fellowship.

“Bosons are force particles, and basically every boson except for the Higgs — the photon, the gluon — is a vector boson. Leptons are electrons, muons, neutrinos, stuff like that,” Talbi explains. “Vector-like leptons are a hypothetical particle, we don’t know whether or not they exist.”

Talbi was drawn to astronomy because she has long had an interest in the fundamental nature of the universe. As a child, she read an article on Dark Matter and, later, a friend gave her a book on the Standard Model. She was hooked. When she applied for the Thaxton Fellowship, a departmental program that was started to provide more equitable access to undergraduate research in physics, she discussed her interest in particle physics and the research at CERN, which landed her in Bose’s group.

“So before I even had any formal education in physics, where things can be very black and white, I’ve had the opportunity to understand the beautiful things within the field,” Talbi says. “Studying physics, I think, gives you some of the most fundamental understanding of our existence.”

Both Metter and Talbi say that attending conference was overall a very worthwhile experience — even if they both had to take an E+M exam remotely before presenting. (“It was a good bonding experience,” Talbi says.)

“The conference was a lot of fun, and worth it to go and make some connections and experience a bunch of really interesting research from people all in different stages of their careers,” Mettner says.

Adds Talbi: “There were so many undergraduates there, I met so many, I made a lot of friends. It felt like there was a community.”

Both students were also invited to present their award-winning talks to the Physics Board of Visitors spring meeting.

Baha Balantekin named “Outstanding Referee” of the Physical Reviews journals

This post is modified from one published by APS

Profile photo of Baha Balantekin
Baha Balantekin

Congrats to Prof. Baha Balantekin on being named a 2024 Outstanding Referee of the Physical Reviews journals!

The highly selective Outstanding Referee program annually recognizes about 150 of the roughly 91,600 currently active referees. Like Fellowship in the APS, this is a lifetime award.

In this year, 2024, 156 Outstanding Referees were selected. APS Editors select the honorees based on the quality, number, and timeliness of their reports, without regard for membership in the APS, country of origin, or field of research. Referees are rewarded for their work carried out since 1978, the earliest year for which we have accurate data on referee reports returned. The decisions are difficult and there are many excellent referees who are still to be recognized.

The Outstanding Referee program was instituted in 2008 to recognize scientists who have been exceptionally helpful in assessing manuscripts for publication in the APS journals. By means of the program, APS expresses its appreciation to all referees, whose efforts in peer review not only keep the standards of the journals at a high level, but in many cases also help authors to improve the quality and readability of their articles – even those that are not published by APS.

Other current UW–Madison physics department members who are recipients of this honor include Mark Friesen (2023), Lisa Everett (2021), Deniz Yavuz (2013), and Thad Walker (2009).

Alex Levchenko, Mark Rzchowski elected Fellows of the American Physical Society

images shows two profile pictures, Alex Levchenko on the left and Mark Rzchowski on the right.

Congratulations to Profs. Alex Levchenko and Mark Rzchowski, who were elected 2022 Fellows of the American Physical Society!

Levchenko was elected for “broad contributions to the theory of quantum transport in mesoscopic, topological, and superconducting systems.” He was nominated by the Division of Condensed Matter Physics.

Rzchowski was elected for “pioneering discoveries and understanding of physical principles governing correlated complex materials and interfaces, including superconductors, correlated oxide systems multiferroic systems, and spin currents in noncollinear antiferromagnets.” He was nominated by the Division of Materials Physics.

APS Fellowship is a distinct honor signifying recognition by one’s professional peers for outstanding contributions to physics. Each year, no more than one half of one percent of the Society’s membership is recognized by this honor.

See the full list of 2022 honorees at the APS Fellows archive.

Baha Balantekin elected APS Speaker of the Council

Profile photo of Baha BalantekinBaha Balantekin, the Eugene P. Wigner Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, has been elected Speaker of the Council for the American Physics Society (APS). He will serve as Speaker-elect in 2020, Speaker in 2021, and Speaker Emeritus in 2022.

The APS Speaker of the Council presides over the Council, a body of elected leadership within the professional society. The Speaker also serves on the APS Board of Directors as well as presiding over the Council’s Steering Committee.

“It is an honor to be elected, for me and for the UW,” Balantekin says. “Speaker of the Council is another public face of APS besides the Presidential line.”

APS is the professional society of not only physicists in the United States, but also has a worldwide membership. According to the mission statement, APS exists to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics for the benefit of humanity, to promote physics, and to serve the broader physics community. APS relies on volunteers to serve in leadership positions, such as Speaker of the Council, to advance its mission.

“Having Prof. Balantekin in the leadership role in the American Physics Society is a matter of pride for our department, and we are happy to share his leadership skills with the wider physics community,” says Sridhara Dasu, chair of the UW–Madison department of physics.

Balantekin was elected to the role at the annual election meeting of the APS Board and Council, held in early November 2019. He has been a Fellow of APS since 1994. He is currently completing his second year on the Council of Representatives and his first year on the Board of Directors, to which he was elected last year.