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10 Questions for a Physicist: Christian Bauer

October 13, 2011 - 1:16pm


Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Physicist Christian Bauer | Photo courtesy Roy Kaltschmidt, LBNL

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Physicist Christian Bauer | Photo courtesy Roy Kaltschmidt, LBNL

Meet Christian Bauer – theoretical physicist at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory and a newly minted recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). In the latest 10 Questions, Dr. Bauer discusses his work in high-energy physics and shares how these developments are helping craft our understanding of nature’s most fundamental questions.

Question: Why did you decide to pursue a career in science?
Christian Bauer: I was always curious about mathematics and physics, so it was natural for me to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics after finishing high school. I really enjoyed learning about all different aspects of the physical sciences, but the most fundamental questions always interested me the most. This is why I decided to pursue a career in theoretical particle physics, which tries to address some of the most fundamental questions in science.

Q: Why are awards like PECASE important?
CB: I received an Early Career Award from the Department of Energy that funds my research for 5 years. This has allowed me to establish a strong research program by hiring several postdocs and students, and pursuing this research independent of other funding constraints. Receiving a prestigious award such as the PECASE has provided extra motivation and support to continue the research of my group.

Q: Do you have advice for students interested in science careers?
CB: The most important thing is to find something that interests and excites you. I believe that the only way to be successful at something is to truly enjoy working on it, and to be challenged every day. Science is as much about asking the right questions then it is about finding the answers, so students have to find out if they can deal with the level of uncertainty that comes with this. But there is no more satisfying job than to get up every morning and look forward to going to work and learning new things.

Q: Can you share a bit about your experiences mentoring other high-energy physicists?
CB:I believe that mentoring of young scientists is of critical importance to advance our field and science in general. The Department of Energy has a great program that allows undergraduate students to work in research groups at a national lab, and I have had two students work with me in the past. This has certainly been very beneficial to my project, but it hopefully has also provided an interesting learning experience for the undergraduate students.

I am also advising several graduate students, as well as postdoctoral researchers. In the beginning one tends to provide research projects to these young scientists, but there is nothing more rewarding than to see them find problems and projects on their own and to make the transition to an independent scientist.

Q: What projects are your working on right now?
CB: One of the big questions my field is trying to answer is what are the fundamental forces of nature. We address this question using particle accelerators, which can produce particles that decay so fast that they can only observed at these experimental facilities. My work is to develop new ways to make precise predictions of the outcomes of these experiments, based on our current knowledge of these fundamental forces. By comparing these expectations with the measurements made, we can determine if our understanding of nature is correct or needs to be amended. In fact, there are several known deficits in our current understanding of nature, so there is an expectation of discovering new physics at these accelerators.

Q: How will the tools you developed advance work at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)?
CB:There are many different ways to perform the comparison between measurements and expectations, and I have been involved in developing the theoretical frameworks and calculations required. An important aspect of my current work is to develop new theoretical ideas that use our understanding of the underlying theory to directly simulate what is observed in the experiments at LHC. This allows for the most direct comparison of theory and experiment, and is of crucial importance to test our understanding of how nature works at its most fundamental level.

Q: What research are you watching (beside your own)?
CB:I am very interested in the many results that are coming out of research on the origin of our universe. In particular, the nature of the mysterious dark energy has fascinated me for a long time.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
CB: I love to go sailing in the San Francisco Bay, which provides some of the best conditions for all levels of sailing.

Q: Where in the world have you sailed?
CB: Most of my sailing has been in the Bay Area, which is where I learned to sail. It provides some of the best sailing in the world, with consistent winds, but quite challenging conditions. I have also sailed in Spain, and we are planning a sailing trip in the Caribbean.

Q: Last question – what is on your reading list right now?
CB: I recently bought some cook books by Thomas Keller. When I have time on the weekends, I try to reproduce some of the recipes.