Particle physics laboratory

Leah Broussard, Oak Ridge National Laboratory


Leah Jacklyn Broussard, 39, Research Scientist, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Leah Jacklyn Broussard grew up on a Louisiana farm with cows, crayfish and sugar cane. Now, the field of fundamental physics is his work and his playground at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. She is looking for clues of a mirror universe at the edge of our understanding of physics. With her experiments, she searches for places where our models of physics break.

Following:Announcing the 40 Under 40 class of 2021

Following:Energy Secretary touts infrastructure law while praising ORNL for “thinking ahead”

When you reflect on your career so far, which achievement stands out the most?

The achievement that struck me the most was my doctorate. thesis experience. I had little time to conduct the experiment and there would be no second chance. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong in the days leading up to the start: irrecoverable computer failure, my device was damaged, the detection system stopped responding, even the accelerator installation fell out of order. failure due to flooding. I couldn’t speak because of mouth ulcers! It was a Herculean effort to take that experience beyond the finish line. But I didn’t just finish the experiment; I have implemented the best measure in the world.

What’s the biggest professional hurdle you’ve had to overcome?

Perhaps my most difficult obstacle to overcome was internal. At first it was hard to imagine myself as someone who could conduct an experiment, but that confidence came with the experience.

Leah Jacklyn Broussard, Research Scientist, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Class 40 Under 40 of 2021. Photographed in Knoxville, Tenn. On Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

What will you be focusing on in 2022?

After years of preparation, in 2022 our team will put the “Neb“at ORNL’s spallation neutron source. I will focus on overseeing the commissioning and characterization of our state-of-the-art detection system.

This is an exciting project that will study the decay of the free neutron (a neutron outside the nucleus of an atom) with unprecedented precision. From this experience, we will learn more about the fundamental properties of one of the four forces of nature: weak force.

Editor’s Note: The weak force is one of the four fundamental forces in physics along with gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong nuclear force. The weak force is responsible for the decay of subatomic particles and some forms of radioactivity. In space, it triggers the fusion reaction that ignites the stars.

What is your biggest professional goal?

ORNL is home to some of the most intense neutron facilities in the world. With planned upgrades to the High Flux Isotope Reactor, there is a phenomenal opportunity to expand and build what could, potentially, be the world’s brightest ultra-cold neutron facility.

Ultra-cold neutrons unlock great potential for fundamental physics. We could explore questions such as: why the universe is made of matter and not of antimatter? How well do we understand the forces of nature? It is my dream to have such a facility in my own backyard.

Which mistake have you learned the most from?

One of my most respected mentors told me early in my career, “It’s more important to be right than to be right. Meaning: stop trying to win arguments to prove that your initial position was correct, but instead take what you learned from the debate and change your position accordingly.

It is easy to cling to an idea even in the face of evidence to the contrary. To grow as a scientist, I had to learn to let go of my pride and admit that I was wrong.

What motivates you?

Imagine what we could accomplish!

What’s the most overrated advice you’ve heard?

There is a core of wisdom in almost all advice, but all advice is overrated. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Listen to and learn from those who came before you, but at the end of the day you have to trust yourself – you are taking the risk.

What trait do you look for the most in a colleague?

Reliability. I want to know that we support each other.

What about Knoxville that you would like to improve?

I would like us to seriously invest in mental health and social services to ensure the stability of the homeless population. People experiencing homelessness are extremely diverse and happen for many reasons. Although this is a difficult and complex problem, we have to face it head on to avoid a real crisis in our city, and I think we have the opportunity to really show how we are tackling the contributing factors. .

For me personally, it would also be great to have more transit options in Knoxville and more sidewalks and bike paths. Living in the old town, I really enjoyed the trolley and the improvements made over the years to make the area more accessible on foot. Let’s keep that!

Leah Jacklyn Broussard, Research Scientist, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Class 40 Under 40 of 2021. Photographed in Knoxville, Tenn. On Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

Who in Knoxville is underrated?

One thing I learned firsthand from having a mom working in K-12 education – by far our educators are the most underrated members of our community. Especially given the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, teachers and staff in our schools are on the front lines to ensure the next generation can thrive.

Family: Robert Pattie, husband

Years of work in the current company: 6

Diplomas and certifications: Doctor of Philosophy, Physics, Duke University; Master of Arts, Physics, Duke University; Bachelor of Science, Computer Science, Tulane University

Community involvement: Member of the program committee of the Division of Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society; Co-organizer of Rare Processes Frontier for the American High Energy Physics Community’s Ten-Year Planning Process “Snowmass”; Co-lead the nuclear physics internship program in East Tennessee

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Vincent gabrielle