ISU physicist loans expertise to national program

Eli Rosenberg and other physics leaders in a South Dakota mine

Eli Rosenberg (far right) and other physics leaders work 4,850 feet below the surface at the Homestake Mine in Lead, S.D. File photo.

Eli Rosenberg is back in his Iowa State office, papers and books spread across his desk, an inbox full of requests for assistance, stories and photos from four years of national physics work at the ready.

Rosenberg, a professor and former chair of physics and astronomy, is back on campus after four years with the High Energy Physics Program within the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. He moved out of the Zaffarano Physics Addition to DOE offices in Germantown, Md., as part of a temporary assignment with the agency.

"They asked me if I was interested," said Rosenberg, a veteran of collider physics work with the BaBar Experiment at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California and the ATLAS Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. "I could bring in outside expertise and offer advice."

Who better to prepare fact sheets and presentations for Congress than a professor with a long history of teaching physics to freshmen?

"We always have to respond to questions justifying the science," Rosenberg said. "We spend a lot of time explaining the science."

Wearing many hats, including baseball

Rosenberg helped coordinate the panels that selected the country's top early career physicists for research awards as high as $500,000 per year for five years. He worked with the QuarkNet education program. He helped manage Department of Energy research grants. (And, when he could get away, a professor famous for his physics-of-baseball lectures spent a few hours with the Nationals and the Orioles.)

But mostly, he helped manage the proposed Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment. The experiment aims to shoot a beam packed with neutrinos 800 miles from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., to the Homestake Mine in Lead, S.D. The underground beam would cut across the northern quarter of Iowa, roughly from Dubuque to Mason City to the northwest corner of the state.

If and when the experiment is turned on, Iowans are never going to notice all those neutrinos racing at nearly light speed. That's because neutrinos – even though they're among the most abundant subatomic particles in the universe – usually race through matter without leaving a trace.

The experiment would shoot the neutrinos at a massive detector that will measure how they change over time and space. The resulting data could help physicists understand why the universe is dominated by matter – even though the universe should have started with equal parts matter and antimatter.

Piecing a project together

As originally planned, the experiment was expected to cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion. But budget cuts put the project in peril. And so researchers broke the project into phases that will be completed over several years. Phase I would have a price tag of about $800 million.

As program manager for the project, Rosenberg was part of the activity that kept the proposed experiment alive. (Mayly Sanchez, an Iowa State assistant professor of physics and astronomy with a joint appointment at the DOE's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, also has been involved with the long baseline experiment and other ongoing neutrino projects.)

A future in physics

Now that he's back on campus, Rosenberg is thinking about what's next in his physics career.

He could return to his previous work with particle colliders and the hunt for the Higgs boson. Or, he could continue his neutrino work of the past few years. That work has taken him to experiments in Japan, China and 4,850 feet below ground in a former South Dakota gold mine – and he's happy to share photos from all those physics adventures.

The pictures show Rosenberg really has had a front row view of the country's physics future.