Kai Schweda replaces Peter Braun Munzinger as new member of the ALICE thesis award committee and will contribute on this important task in the life of the collaboration. We asked him about his previous career and his thoughts about his new role.
When did you decide to move to the field of heavy-ion physics and what is your particular field of research?
My doctoral thesis work was in low-energy nuclear structure. We used a 100 MeV proton beam scattering off the doubly-magic nucleus 48Ca to investigate collective modes and their decays via neutrons. Imagine, those protons are of such low energy that they would already be stopped in the ALICE beampipe and thus would never be detected. At the time I completed my thesis, the heavy-ion program me at the then brand-new Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider was just about to start. I was thrilled by these high energies that were now available for nuclear physics. Even if it sounds dull, the sheer size of the detectors and, with it, the size of these collaborations dragged me to it. My thesis experiment was carried out within a group of a handful of people. We were always hanging out together and discussed everything over lunch, dinner, or over beers in the evening. There were no formal meetings. So I wanted to learn something new, still nuclear physics, but at vastly larger energies in a completely different environment.
My main interest in ALICE is heavy quarks, i.e. charm and beauty. They are unique probes of the Quark-Gluon Plasma (QGP), and ALICE is especially good at detecting most of them.
What do you think we can learn from these studies? How do they contribute to our understanding of the QGP?
We want to learn about the properties of the quark gluon plasma, such as the critical temperature, its degrees of freedom, speed of sound, and, in general, its transport coefficients.
In a broader context, the precise characterization of the QGP would enhance our understanding of Quantum Chromodynamics as a genuine multi-particle theory.
You recently joined the ALICE thesis award committee. How do you feel about your new role?
When Paul Kuijer, who chairs the ALICE thesis award committee, asked me to join, I immediately said yes. It is a challenge to thoroughly go through some 20 theses and select two of them for the award. But I think it is important to appreciate young scientists in our collaboration. Young scientists performing careful physics analysis, and often providing new ideas, are vital for a large collaboration. The thesis award is just one way of showing appreciation.
How many PhD students have you supervised? What do you think are the important qualities for a teacher (or specifically for a thesis supervisor)?
Drs. Robert Grajcarek and Yifei Wang recently completed their theses under my supervision. I am currently supervising Jeremy Wilkinson and Johannes Stiller, and of course some more Master- and Bachelor students.
I don't want to give advice to others. But I believe that motivation is key to success. At the University of Heidelberg, I really enjoy working with students at all levels. When interacting with students, I try to transmit my passion for science. A large collaboration such as ALICE poses additional challenges to young scientists. Getting productive and feeling comfortable in such a large group is far from trivial. The working groups in ALICE provide a great platform for this.
Finally, what would be your advice to a candidate who is thinking of starting a PhD with ALICE (in the field of heavy-ion physics)?
Go for it!