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Visitor enhances international collaborations

08 June 2015

During her six months as a Visiting Scholar at TRIUMF physicist Elizabeth Padilla-Rodal hopes to strengthen the collaborative environment in low energy nuclear physics research between TRIUMF and her home institution in Mexico.

This is not Elizabeth’s first time at TRIUMF. Shortly after completing her PhD in Physics in 2005 at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City, she accepted a postdoctoral position with the gamma-ray spectroscopy group at TRIUMF and travelled to Vancouver. While here, she participated in the development and the early experiments of the TIGRESS Germanium gamma-ray spectrometer.

At the time, she says, we “were mostly testing new detectors.” She was a member of the team responsible for commissioning and testing BGO Compton-suppression shields. The advantage of hands-on training for a budding researcher remained clear to Elizabeth.

Following her postdoctoral experience at TRIUMF in 2007, Elizabeth returned to her Alma Mater as an assistant professor. Her latest promotion in 2013 earned her tenure as an associate professor. Now, she is dedicated to opening doors for her students in regards to experimental science.

“Mexico has always had a tradition of being strong in nuclear theory but not in experimental nuclear physics,” she said. The infrastructure available to Elizabeth and her students at the Instituto de Ciencias Nucleares (Nuclear Science Institute) at UNAM is not comparable to that at TRIUMF, “in terms of equipment and man power.”

“I have a small detector lab at my home institution,” said Padilla. “I’m trying to orient my students and make my equipment compatible with external labs.” While here, she would like to initiate collaborations that could allow her to bring the work done here back to UNAM. “I want to train my students in such a way that they can get involved in the research.”

Elizabeth’s interest in teaching and opening doors is made clear in her participation in the Mexican Symposium of Nuclear Physics. She is a member of the organizing committee that facilitates the conference annually in Cocoyoc, Mexico. She has gone so far to chair the event in both 2012 and 2015. This is particularly impressive considering that, according to a report from Nuclear Physics News, this is “one of the longest-running annual nuclear physics conferences in the world.” 

The event brings together an international group of academics, students and researchers to discuss nuclear physics, with topics ranging from nuclear structure, hadron physics to astrophysics. Last year’s symposium featured individuals from more than 10 countries, including TRIUMF’s own Barry Davids.

Gordon Ball, Researcher Emeritus in the ISAC program, who worked with Elizabeth during her first time here has attended the conference and spoke about the benefits of an event of this nature. He said that the networking opportunity enabled researchers to make connections that, eventually, brought some of them to work at TRIUMF.

With a background in low-energy nuclear physics and having studied Coulomb excitation – the very same reaction mechanism used for TIGRESS – for her PhD thesis, TRIUMF is a perfect fit for Padilla’s interests. She is incredibly excited by the possibilities presented by “a new tritium target to perform two-nucleon transfer reactions” with the TIGRESS gamma-ray spectrometer.

Three months into her term at TRIUMF, the best is yet to come. “It’s exciting,” she said, of the experience. “It’s also challenging to get up to speed and insert yourself in a way that you can contribute, but it’s worth it. I’m very happy to be here.”

Elizabeth will be hosting a seminar on Thursday, June 11th, entitled “Nuclear Structure Studies using Radioactive Ion Beams”.

- Kelsey Litwin, Communications Assistant

Photo: Elizabeth in front of the TIGRESS experiment