Ken Bloom, professor of physics and astronomy, has been named a 2016 fellow of the American Physical Society. As the world’s largest society of physicists, the APS annually bestows fellowship status on no more than one-half percent of its current membership.
Bloom was nominated by the APS Division of Particles and Fields. The division cited Bloom’s contribution to characterizing the top quark, the heaviest known subatomic particle, from data gathered at the Tevatron collider and Large Hadron Collider.
The top quark’s mass also makes it of interest to those studying the Higgs boson, a particle that explains how elementary particles gain their mass.
“Ken is widely recognized as an expert in top quark physics, from its production in high energy colliders to the ways this important but short-lived particle decays,” said Dan Claes, chair of the Department of Physics. “Ken has led efforts to understand its properties and help determine that this was the top quark, behaving exactly as the Standard Model theory predicted it should.
“Because of its high mass, the top quark interacts particularly strongly with the Higgs boson, which was realized even before the Higgs’ existence was confirmed,” Claes said. “Ken’s expertise was important to the … search for the Higgs and now is proving indispensable to studying top-Higgs interactions, which will help us understand the properties of the Higgs better.”
The university’s Holland Computing Center represents one of seven U.S. “Tier-2” sites that give particle physicists access to the massive amounts of collision data collected at the Large Hadron Collider. Claes also credited Bloom with making this development possible.
“We have that Tier-2 center because a dozen years ago, Ken successfully leveraged the university’s unique strengths – the research computing facility, local expertise in cluster computing, and strong financial support from the vice chancellor of research that upgraded the campus internet bandwidth capabilities – to secure the $2 million grant that first established it,” Claes said.
Bloom and the university have also made key contributions to the Compact Muon Solenoid, or CMS, one of two massive particle detectors at the Large Hadron Collider. The CMS detector produces petabytes, or millions of gigabytes, of data each year.
Accommodating this vast quantity of data requires a worldwide computing grid that combines the power of more than 140 computer centers in 34 countries, including the United States. As software and computing manager for the U.S. CMS operations program, Bloom oversees a $15 million annual budget to process, store, transfer and analyze data from the Large Hadron Collider.
“The university’s coup in securing its Tier-2 facility, and Bloom’s in landing a succession of national managerial appointments, are just an indication of the confidence the CMS collaboration places in Ken and demonstrate his ability to manage a large project with enormous challenges,” said Claes.
Outside of his research, Bloom also works to expand public knowledge about particle physics through a blog hosted on the site Quantum Diaries. He also wrote a fictional blog post that served as a plot point on a 2015 episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”
Bloom, who joined the university in 2004, is the chief undergraduate advisor in the Department of Physics and serves on the university’s Academic Planning Committee. He holds a doctorate in physics from Cornell University.