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Florida State University


"We study the microscopic view, the Shell Model, of nuclear structures, which is based on how protons and neutrons fill up and move within their shells," says Michelle Perry of her Physics studies at Florida State. "This Model is well understood for stable nuclei (ones that don't decay), but not as you get into the unstable regimes. By studying fluorine-21—a nucleus created in the burning of stars, the process that produces the lighter elements of our universe—we can test the Shell Model and better understand the processes of the stars."

A high school Physics class in which Michelle was introduced to the modern concepts of nanotechnology and relativity, "topics that are really fascinating and graspable without complicated Math," clinched her decision to major in Physics. Gender is not the reason, she says, as to why few women study this field. Rather, she believes it is "the education of Physics in introductory classes. In Mr. Carney's class, I was very lucky to glimpse what Physics is really like."

Above all, Michelle loves research, and because of her work, she has been asked the past three years to attend the national Division of Nuclear Physics conference. These conferences of the American Physical Society support a Conference Experience for Undergraduates program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. They have enabled Michelle to present her research on the neutron-rich F21, neutrino-less double-beta decay, and the first g-factor measurement of a mixed-symmetric state. It's an "amazing program," says Michelle. "The physicists actually consider you a peer! They question you with the genuine intent of learning something new."

Her summers are spent on additional research. The Summer Undergraduate Leadership Internship fellowships sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy are "pretty competitive." But because Michelle's research here at Florida State involves the use of Germanium (Ge) detectors, which the neutrino astrophysics at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California don't typically use in their research, she "had knowledge that they did not have." She was accepted into the program to work on "the Majorana Project, a large experiment that has the potential of determining whether the Standard Model, the model that explains all nature at the particle level, is incorrect."

What were the results? Michelle responds, "Get back to me in a few years; possibly I can tell you. It is a very difficult experiment, and I had the wonderful opportunity to work on its development, helping make critical decisions."

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