Page 12 - UCT2012 Research Dashboard

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Unlocking the secrets of a
simply brilliant universe
Despite what he calls the "long and often complicated
path" it takes to uncover the laws of physics, Dr
Andrew Hamilton, who was awarded an NRF P rating
for his continuing insights into understanding the
Universe at its most fundamental level, believes they
are inherently simple.
Dr Hamilton's academic journey has spanned three
continents and has seen him contribute to more than
200 peer-reviewed publications as a member of two
large proton collider experiments, ATLAS and the
Collider Detector at Fermilab in the USA. He joined
UCT's Department of Physics as a lecturer in July 2011,
following a five-year stint at the ATLAS experiment,
which he joined as a postdoctoral fellow with the
University of Geneva. The ATLAS project is one of
two general-purpose detectors at the Large Hadron
Collider at the European Centre for Nuclear Research
(CERN), the decades-long experiment to detect the
Higgs boson particle. Here, Dr Hamilton focused on
helping to develop the ATLAS trigger system.
"The trigger system is a vital component of the experiment
that selects which events to record for further analysis and
which to discard," he explains.
His true interest, however, lies in analysing and
interpreting the data collected by the trigger,
specifically data related to the Higgs boson's decay
into two photons, which is what the Higgs boson does
in the Standard Model of the Universe.
Dr Hamilton's teaching career began at the University of
Alberta as a teaching assistant in 2001, and evolved into
the supervision of master's and doctoral students at the
University of Geneva. He also co-ordinated the doctoral
programme at the Swiss Institute of Particle Physics from
2010 to 2011. At UCT, he has been teaching physics from
first-year to honours level, and previously taught nuclear
and particle physics and advanced nuclear physics to
senior undergraduate students.
What inspires his curiosity about the smallest stuff
that makes up our Universe? "The idea of breaking
down our understanding of the Universe into its
most fundamental pieces attracted me to particle
physics," he says. "The ability to observe a physical
phenomenon as profound as the Higgs boson has kept
me interested."
Dr Hamilton's present research interests revolve around
Standard Model direct photon production studies. He
plans to continue research at the high-energy frontier
of particle physics. Due to the fundamental nature of
contemporary particle physics, Dr Hamilton admits that the
impact of his and his peers' research on society might not
be immediately visible.
"Just as people doing fundamental research in the
early 20th century could not have predicted that an
understanding of quantum mechanics would lead to the
development of the computer, we don't know where our
current fundamental research will lead."
Seismic counts for
earthquake geologist
At just 30, earthquake geologist and lecturer in structural
geology in the Department of Geological Sciences
Dr Åke Fagereng was awarded a P rating from the National
Research Foundation in 2012. These ratings can be awarded
only once, but there is an expectation that the recognition
and support will grow not only his body of work, but a new
generation of young geologists in his wake.
Dr Fagereng received his PhD in 2010, but already has
a sizeable publications list, mostly papers published in
the past two years. With funding from the South African
Dr Andrew Hamilton
NRF Ratings
Dr Åke Fagereng