University of Rochester physicist Lynne Orr has won two prestigious national grants aimed at fostering the research and teaching of promising young researchers.
Orr, who joined the Rochester faculty as an assistant professor in 1993, recently received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award and a U.S. Department of Energy Outstanding Junior Investigator Award. Each award is worth $200,000 over four years.
"Lynne Orr has excelled both in research and in teaching," says Professor Paul Slattery, chair of the University's Department of Physics and Astronomy. "We're very pleased, but certainly not surprised, that her efforts in both have been recognized with these awards."
Both the NSF and the DOE awards support Orr's research in high-energy physics, the field that examines subatomic behavior by using colliders to smash high-energy particles together.
Orr's research unites high-energy physics theory and experiment. She investigates how experiments can answer the questions posed by high-energy physics theory and helps to design, plan, and interpret the experiments conducted at the world's high-energy particle colliders. This work is aimed at pushing the intellectual limits of the Standard Model, which physicists have devised to explain the puzzling array of subatomic particles such as quarks, leptons, and gluons.
"All the experiments performed to date support the Standard Model, but crucial questions remain unanswered by it," Orr says. "How do particles acquire mass? Why are there so many different subatomic particles, and why does each have the properties it has? It's this kind of fundamental question that I'm ultimately trying to answer."
Orr's current research focuses on the top quark, especially the measurement of its mass. A split second after formation, top quarks undergo a complex reaction to decay into sprays of lighter particles. By thoroughly mapping this reaction, Orr hopes to pinpoint the top quark's mass and its experimental signature.
"Understanding top quark physics is crucial to the success of future collider experiments that seek to test the Standard Model and hunt for new high-energy particles," she says.
Last summer, Orr was tapped to teach the first course ever offered to graduate students at the renowned Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, the highest-energy particle collider in the world. Her course in particle physics was enthusiastically received by the 50 students who enrolled.
Orr's teaching interests also touch on a key social concern in the scientific community -- the underrepresentation of women in the sciences. As a co-recipient of a third grant, through the NSF's Model Projects for Women and Girls program, Orr is actively involved in the push to interest more young women in careers in science and engineering. She has joined other Rochester physicists in developing an innovative program that trains undergraduate women to teach physics effectively and then places them in introductory physics labs as teaching assistants.
"This program attempts to achieve several goals at once," Orr says. "First of all, it improves the quality of teaching for all students. It also maintains these young women's interest in science and sparks interest in the women they teach. Since every science and engineering student at Rochester takes our introductory physics courses, we're reaching a lot of students."
Orr did post-doctoral work at the University of California at Davis before joining the Rochester faculty. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and a B.S. and M.S. from the College of William and Mary.