Physics grad student Abigail Kopec awarded fellowship from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium
Writer(s): Cheryl Pierce
Abigail "Abby" Kopec has been awarded a graduate fellowship from the Indiana Space Grant Consortium (INSGC). She is a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University and a research assistant in the Dark Matter Lab with her advisor, associate professor Rafael Lang.
In order to be considered for this fellowship, graduate students must be in good standing at INSGC affiliated institution and be involved in STEM-related research or a STEM education project.
“The fellowship is awarded for Abby to continue her work which is a fun mix of dark matter and neutrino science, hands-on laboratory research, and involvement of undergraduates in authentic research,” says Lang. “Specifically, Abby is working with a dozen or so undergraduates on an analysis of data from our XENONnT detector which is located in Italy. Abby has a real knack to work with students on such unscripted and challenging research projects. I'm really excited to see what we'll find this next year in our data.”
Kopec is from Princeton, Massachusetts and graduated from Wachusett Regional High School in 2012. After high school, she received her Bachelor of Science degree from Boston College in 2016. She then came to Purdue and received her Master of Science in 2018 and is currently working toward her Ph.D.
“I am doing two related projects that both contribute to lowering the detectable energies of interactions in liquid xenon dark matter detectors,” says Kopec. “We get two signals from an interaction: prompt photons (light) and secondary electrons. Neutrinos and low-mass dark matter will not have more than a few detectable photons and less than 10 detectable electrons. I plan to use a unique feature of our photosensors where true xenon interaction light can cause the photosensors to think there are two photons when there was only one. This can lower the light threshold to single real photons (which caused a two-photon-like signal). I also am trying to understand and suppress electron backgrounds, which mostly appear correlated with other previous interactions that have 1000s of electrons. With a better understanding of photons and few-electron signals, they can be used to look for interactions from neutrinos and light dark matter.”
Kopec’s career goals are all about teaching. She enjoys being able to interact with students personally and hopes to be a professor at a small liberal arts college one day. She hopes to help both graduate and undergraduate students gain research experience and is also interested in physics education research.
Kopec didn’t set out to be a physicist. She was a well-rounded student who considered liberal arts, engineering, and even teaching music or Latin. By her sophomore year as an undergrad at Boston College, she knew physics was a field of study she definitely wanted to continue and started research in condensed matter/materials physics. When she came to Purdue as a grad student, though she knew that she loved experimental physics, she was open to research in other sub-fields within physics.
“Upon enrolling at Purdue (for graduate school), Rafael Lang, the SPS advisor, knocked on all the graduate students' offices advertising the annual research Blitz colloquium,” she says. “He quickly became one of my favorite professors. In the spring semester, I passed the qual and there were professors giving research seminars to advertise their work to the new graduate students. I really enjoyed Rafael's presentation and asked to work in his lab for the summer 2017. I liked it so much, I've stayed despite essentially starting in the field from scratch.”
The INSGC is one of the 52 Consortia part of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. In the state of Indiana, INSGC is a source of NASA-related information, awards and programs. The consortium works to carry out education, research, and public outreach activities in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology (STEM) related to space, aeronautics, aviation, and Earth system science, all while advocating increased financial and government support for Space Grant Consortia.