Ken Bloom

Ken Bloom

When you work in particle physics, as I do, you start to think that everyone in the world is a particle physicist, because you are always surrounded by them.  This is of course not true; there are only a few thousand particle physicists in this world of six billion people—we are truly one in a million! Thus, I am sometimes surprised to find myself in this business, but here I am. How did that happen?

Like so much of life, it turns on small things. I met my first physics teacher when I was in fourth grade. My school district, in South Orange, NJ, had started up a program for so-called gifted and talented elementary-school students, and recruited one of the high-school physics teachers to teach math and science for a year. All of us kids ended up melting ice and boiling water and measuring heat capacities and the like. In high school, I found physics to be the most challenging science course, and that got me interested; I was captain of the physics team.

I arrived at the University of Chicago with a plan to be a physics major. The same was true for about half of the incoming class; not everyone ended up that way. I did enjoy the courses, but a major element of my college education was my research work. Largely by accident—I signed on with the instructor of my intro physics course—I found myself working in experimental particle physics, on Fermilab's CDF experiment. The lab is only about an hour's drive away from the U of C campus in Hyde Park, so I soon found myself regularly commuting for presentations and discussions with collaborators. And I have been in particle physics ever since. I genuinely enjoy this work. The physics itself is quite compelling; we are getting at some basic truths about how the universe works. The experiments themselves are projects of amazing scale, and I marvel that after all that must happen correctly to detect particles and record and process data, we are able to make measurements that make sense and can critically probe theoretical predictions. And there is great fun in working with such a wide range of people from so many backgrounds and cultures. That last part can be maddening at times too, but all part of the game.

I went to Cornell University for graduate school, and worked on the CLEO experiment there. I helped build a silicon detector, and measured properties of B mesons, finishing my Ph.D. in 1997. Afterwards, I returned to CDF as a postdoctoral researcher at The Johns Hopkins University and then the University of Michigan. Fermilab was getting ready for a new run of the upgraded Tevatron, and there many additions and improvements being developed for CDF. I helped build the online charged-particle track trigger, worked on offline tracking software, and then led the team that developed the experiment's muon reconstruction software. Once the data started rolling in, I worked in top-quark physics, leading one of CDF's analysis groups on the topic and contributing to several measurements of top-quark production and properties.

I joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as an assistant professor in 2004, and was promoted to associate professor in 2009. Since there was an existing DØ group here, I switched over from CDF to DØ.  But I also started working on the CMS experiment at the LHC. Nebraska has the honor of hosting a Tier-2 computing center for CMS, one of only seven in the US; we are responsible for providing resources for data analysis and simulation production. In 2005, I was appointed as the US CMS Tier-2 project manager, overseeing the development and operation of all the US sites. It is a great privilege to work with the talented staff at the seven schools, who make me look really smart every day. I also play a coordinating role for the approximately 30 world-wide CMS Tier-2 sites, trying to make sure that everyone has the information they need to succeed in delivering computing for CMS physics. And we can't forget that there is physics to do in here too! I am co-leading a working group at Fermilab's LHC Physics Center that will be studying physics processes that manifest themselves in final states that include charged leptons, hadronic jets and missing energy. The top quark can fall into this category; it will provide an important calibration point that we need to understand before we can move on to studies of the new physics that we expect to discover with the LHC.

Having grown up near New York City, it never occurred to me that I might live in Nebraska, but here I am! I met my wife Sarah in Lincoln; she is a professor and chair of the English department at Nebraska Wesleyan University. Our children Eva and Moses were born in 2006 and 2008, and they are a total delight but also a lot of work. Sarah and I are both very busy with our day jobs during the school year; there are quite a lot of things to keep up with as a professor, but the payoff is that the job is a rich canvas to paint on. We are deeply involved in our various communities, academic and otherwise, and in what little spare time we have we enjoy (between the two of us) baseball, music, cooking, reading, and socializing with our friends in Lincoln and abroad.