After a Fall 2022 semester marked by travel to the 2022 APS DNP Conference in New Orleans, the Skyline College nEXO group continued its outreach more locally by presenting at Expanding Your Horizons (EYH), as well as uSOAR. The group was also honored to welcome Dr. Paul Gueye during his tour of the INSIGHT sites.   

EYH is a conference for 6th through 12th grade young women that has been held at Skyline College annually since 1980. Conference participants get to learn about career opportunities in math and science, as they conduct lab experiments, wire high-tech phone systems, examine microscopic creatures, and design their own computer software. Each girl attends three hands-on workshops during the all-day conference.

The Skyline nEXO group was very well represented at this year’s EYH, held on Saturday, March 18.  Sara Ellingsworth, Carol Sanders, Paul-Frederik Schubert and Valeria Zarco, the four student trainees in the Skyline group, helped physics professor and nEXO senior collaborator Dr Emilie Hein develop and lead a workshop that they called “Particle Detectives”. This was the first time EYH was held since the COVID pandemic, and its return had been eagerly anticipated. The student trainees enjoyed sharing their knowledge of the nEXO experiment, and used their technical skills to build and demonstrate the use of cloud chambers and a Cosmic Watch. They also made a cloud in a bottle, demonstrated the circular trajectory of electrons traveling in a magnetic field, discussed the consequences of the double-slit experiment and built their own particle “detectors” using shoe box lids, magnetic and ordinary marbles, and iron filings, giving about 50 attendees an opportunity to step into the shoes of a physicist for one hour.

Caption: Cosmic Watch is a maker project for counting cosmic-ray muons. The simple, low-cost detector is based on a plastic scintillator with SiPM readout, solid state preamplification and pulse shaping, and a TDC implemented in an arduino microprocessor.  A nice feature of these devices is the built-in mini OLED display that updates the muon count in real time.

It was a fun-filled day and the conference was rewarding to both attendees and presenters. If you are interested in getting involved, you can look for EYH events in your area. To learn more about this particular workshop, feel free to contact Emilie Hein (

At uSOAR, nEXO was represented by Sara Ellingsworth. Sara’s presentation, Broadening Nuclear Physics: A Feminist in a Feynmanist World, examined the historical deficit of women in physics as well as progress women have made in physics and ideas to make physics more inclusive.

nEXO was also represented at Cañada’s version of uSOAR, which they call the Honors Showcase.  There, Cañada/Skyline student Chase Marangu presented his work to help nEXO scientists better understand the physics of electron transport in the SLAC Xenon Purity Monitor (XPM). This was done under the supervision of Skyline physics prof and nEXO collaboration board member Dr Kolo Wamba. Chase’s efforts represent the latest installment in a project that began last semester with Aidan Cervantes, a Skyline Honors Transfer student, who had collaborated with Prof Wamba to lay much of the theoretical groundwork.

Another of this year’s Honors Transfer students was Skyline engineering student Phone Thant Myo, who collaborated with Prof Wamba on a special circuit that will be used at SLAC to monitor the state of one of the refrigerant valves that is part of the SLAC XPM system. The experience of constructing a multi-function circuit was an immense opportunity for Phone to learn how to solder, how to draw circuit schematics, how each circuit component functions, and how to use these components to build a working circuit. The project gave Phone valuable hands-on experience and helped acquaint him with how engineering is actually done. Phone also took the opportunity to participate in EYH and found it very rewarding.

Last month, Prof Wamba had the pleasure of giving a presentation on nEXO at the departmental colloquium at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP) at UC Santa Cruz.  Though only sparsely attended, the talk was extremely well received, and it resulted in Prof Wamba making some helpful professional contacts at UC Santa Cruz.  Two of the SCIPP faculty who attended Prof Wamba’s talk expressed a desire to collaborate further with the Skyline nEXO group, and discussed establishing a stronger pipeline to bring SMCCCD physics students to UC Santa Cruz for summer internships, transfer, or even graduate school.

Later that month, Prof Wamba went on to give a nEXO Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) seminar titled “The TMT Controversy: What it is and What it Means for nEXO”.  This presentation dealt with the embattled Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), which like nEXO is a large-scale, high dollar science project currently under development.  However, unlike nEXO, the TMT has been the subject of bitter controversy over whether it can be situated atop Mt Maunakea in Hawaii, at a site that also contains a large number of Indigenous Hawaiian religious shrines.  Although at first there were several peaceful protests against the TMT (some of the protests were even met with police crackdowns that resulted in dozens of arrests), now there is a designated body consisting of community members, religious leaders, government officials, and scientists currently in talks to reach a compromise.  Of course, nEXO is a very different sort of project than is the TMT and is very unlikely to face any of the same challenges. However, the TMT story should serve as a cautionary tale about how important it is for any sort of large scale science project to engage with the community that hosts it and take a strong stand for diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

Early this week, Prof Hein also gave a much-anticipated nEXO DEI seminar on a different but closely related topic: how to navigate parenthood as a physicist.  Prof Hein’s talk was an informative and entertaining look at a subject that has only recently begun to get serious attention in the physics community.  An important highlight of the presentation was the attention given to solutions, as opposed to just focusing on problems such as the “motherhood penalty.” The motherhood penalty is the phenomenon whereby a female scientist who becomes a parent experiences marked disadvantages with regards to publications, citations, and overall scientific career advancement, and this happens at a rate more than double what is experienced by scientists who become fathers.  Some of the possible solutions to issues like this that Prof Hein described include institutional policy changes, such as eliminating age-restricting language from job eligibility criteria (e.g. “must be within 5 years of completing a PhD”), and cultural shifts that enable scientists who aren’t parents to become better allies to their collaborators who are.

The end of this semester marks the conclusion of the Year 2 nEXO student traineeships, and a fresh cohort will be taking over for the 8-week summer session.  The new cohort will have the chance to participate in the twice-annual nEXO collaboration meeting which will run from June 12-15.  Following this, the 4 new trainees will attend a series of skills workshops to help develop their capabilities in hand soldering, 3D printing, designing electronic circuits, coding in python and Arduino, and advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in nuclear physics.  They will then apply the skills they learn to individual projects that will support the nEXO detector R&D taking place at Stanford and at SLAC.

It has been a terrific year for the Skyline nEXO group and the entire team is very proud of its progress.  Sara will be transferring to continue to take physics classes in preparation for an M.S. in physics. Carol will be transferring to UCSC to begin a M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Chase has been accepted for transfer to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY and will be starting there in the fall.

We look forward to even more amazing work in the coming summer and possibly beyond.  This work is supported by the US Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Nuclear Physics, via grant award # DE-SC0021954.

Cosmic Watch: Cosmic Watch is a maker project for counting cosmic-ray muons. The simple, low-cost detector is based on a plastic scintillator with SiPM readout, solid state preamplification and pulse shaping, and a TDC implemented in an arduino microprocessor.  A nice feature of these devices is the built-in mini OLED display that updates the muon count in real time.

Article by Sara Ellingsworth, Carol Sanders, Paul-Frederik Schubert, Chase Marangu, Phone Thant Myo, Kolo Wamba and Emilie Hein | Photos by: Emilie Hein

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