Peter Steinberg

Peter Steinberg

I am a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), working on two experiments at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (PHOBOS & PHENIX), but spending most of my time preparing a proposal to do heavy ion physics with the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. I have been at BNL for the last 7 years, except for the 2002-2003 academic year, which I spent on a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

At RHIC, we have been studying collisions of nuclei in an attempt to create a super-hot and super-dense state of matter that has not been accessible in any quantity since the big bang 13.7 billion years ago. The collisions create thousands of particles, which we study with a set of sophisticated detectors. The LHC will be an unprecedented opportunity to apply the knowledge we've gained at RHIC to a system with 30 times the energy, less than a decade after turn-on of RHIC, and with the incredibly sophisticated detector and computing systems being developed for the LHC. It's an opportunity too good to miss, which is why I'm here on this site.

I was born in Chicago on November 21, 1969. I attended the Francis Parker School in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, but here's where I admit that, despite some early interest and aptitude in science and math, I never took physics in high school! Instead I spent a lot of time reading, taking photographs, and playing and talking about music (all of which I continue to do to this day).

After graduating, I went to Yale University, where I eventually earned a BA in Political Science (after various other choices including philosophy and literature). I became very interested in physics sometime in my junior year, completed a large fraction of the major in my senior year, and then spent an extra year at Yale catching up after graduation working for a physics professor and applying to graduate school in physics.

After making the decision to follow a career in nuclear physics, I went to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to start a PhD at MIT. A series of events led to the cancellation of my original thesis project at Brookhaven, so I ended up moving to Geneva, Switzerland (living in the nearby French countryside), to work on a silicon detector for the WA98 experiment at CERN and search for Disoriented Chiral Condensates in high-energy collisions of lead nuclei. After my PhD I moved to New York City to take a postdoctoral position at Columbia University, working on the PHENIX experiment at RHIC, an experiment with 500 scientists. After several years, I wanted to experience science at a smaller scale again, so I joined the staff at Brookhaven to help set up the PHOBOS experiment, which ran from 2000 to 2005 (although we've just taken it apart this summer - if you ever want to know "How Experiments End", just ask me!) At this point, PHOBOS is an analysis experiment and I have joined PHENIX to help work on the detector upgrades for RHIC II. However, the lion's share of my time has been spent as part of the ATLAS Heavy Ion Working Group, a small but devoted group of ATLAS collaborators worldwide, preparing software and physics studies for an upcoming US proposal and an ATLAS Physics Performance Report.

The run-up to the LHC will be a fascinating time, both scientifically and sociologically. After being on an experiment with 50 people, it's been an interesting adjustment to being in an organization with almost 2000. Moreover, one can feel this as a time of transition, with RHIC preparing for the next round of major upgrades and the LHC looming on the horizon. It's an honor and a privilege to be involved in both sides of this story.