Erin Conley: new IB representative for Young DUNE

Erin Conley, second year grad student at Duke University. Photo: Duke University

Second-year Duke University graduate student Erin Conley hasn’t yet reached the point of taking her qualifying exams, but she’s already been contributing to DUNE for a few years. She is now the Young DUNE representative to the DUNE Institutional Board, replacing Jason Stock of SDSMT in that role.

As an undergraduate at Colorado State University (CSU), she worked in Professor Norm Buchanan’s lab on the photon detection system that his team is developing for DUNE. Her undergraduate honors thesis focused on optimizing photon detector geometries. When choosing Duke for graduate school, the DUNE connection provided “an extra perk,” Conley said, but her first priority was different.

“I wanted to work with someone who could offer me options on the kind of neutrino physics to work on,” she said.  Conley is now working with Professor Kate Scholberg, whom she noted is “highly motivated and involved with several neutrino physics collaborations.” Conley is pursuing supernova burst and low-energy (SNB/LE) studies to improve predictions for SNB detection, and to improve reconstruction at the required low energies.

“Working with Kate, I am making a software module that tags events as charged current, neutral current or elastic scattering on electrons for SNB/LE, based on the type of gamma produced in an interaction,” said Conley, referring to the gamma particle (photon) signatures that different interaction processes can produce. “One example is Bremsstrahlung produced by a primary de-excitation electron from an argon atom.”

Conley has attended a few DUNE collaboration meetings, met several colleagues and made some friends. She decided it was time to “jump right in” and become more involved with Young DUNE.

“Jason and Karl (Warburton, current liaison to the spokespersons) have done tremendous work in making Young DUNE more visible to younger scientists and to the incoming community, especially on Slack,” she said. “I want to Increase visibility even more and make it clear who this group is for and why it is important.”

Conley sees the collaboration’s embrace of Young DUNE as a gift and wants to encourage the members to take advantage of what it offers.

“The needs of young scientists are different,” she said. “If this is your first experiment – and it’s such a large one – being the only grad student at your university can be isolating. This community of younger scientists can really encourage you and provide a support system as you progress in your research.”

And Conley is progressing. She gave the plenary talk on SNB studies at the August 2017 collaboration meeting and is preparing to present at the April APS meeting.

“Erin has been a key contributor to the SNB/LE Working Group, improving reconstruction of little stubby supernova events,” said Scholberg.

Outside of her DUNE work, Conley recently began volunteering at a local elementary school to help at-risk students succeed so that they don’t later drop out. “It’s an afterschool program where we help them with homework, do some arts and crafts, and generally provide enrichment,” she said.

She may be young, but she is already starting to give back.