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Department of Defense awards fellowship to KU graduate student

Friday, October 16, 2015

LAWRENCE — A fellowship from the Department of Defense will fund a University of Kansas graduate student’s research in nuclear physics as well as guarantee him a two-year appointment with a federal office upon graduation.

James Bowen, doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, received a Science, Mathematics, Research, and Transformation Scholarship. The award covers tuition and other education expenses and provides an annual stipend of $38,000 from August 2015 to May 2017. After graduation, he will work for two years in the U.S. Naval Oceanographic Office at the John C. Stennis Space Center.

Bowen is doing research in experimental high-energy nuclear physics under Michael Murray, professor of physics. He is currently in residence in Switzerland at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research).

“This SMART fellowship enables James to work at the premier nuclear physics laboratory in the world. The atmosphere at CERN is intoxicatingly exciting, and James will benefit greatly from being there for a year. The fellowship is a great honor and well-deserved,” Murray said.

Bowen is working with his adviser, Murray, and the rest of the KU Experimental Nuclear Physics research group in an attempt to use the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment to measure the momentum of hadronic jets from ultra-peripheral heavy ion collisions in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).   

Hadronic jets are streams of high-energy subatomic particles that result from interactions involving the strong nuclear force in high-energy collisions between protons or atomic nuclei that take place in high-energy particle accelerators, like the LHC. 

An ultra-peripheral collision is like a near miss, where the heavy ions pass very close to each other. They do not actually collide but exchange very high-energy photons which can crash into the nuclei to produce jets of particles. Murray described such an interaction as imagining “the Starship Enterprise firing photon torpedoes at a Klingon ship.” A successful measurement of such jets could reveal much about the internal structure of the pre-collisional nuclei at such high energies. 

Bowen received a B.S. in history and in physics from the University of Idaho, which he attended on a Navy ROTC scholarship.  He received an M.S. in physics from Iowa State University.  

Bowen is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, currently assigned to the U.S. Strategic Command Global Operations Center in Omaha, Nebraska.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Nuclear Propulsion program and is qualified in Submarine Warfare (Gold Dolphins).  His previous assignments include a sea tour as a division officer on the U.S.S. Memphis (SSN-691, i.e. a nuclear submarine) and a tour at NATO ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, which occurred during his graduate studies at KU. Bowen received the Navy-Marine Corps Medal – the Navy’s second highest noncombat medal – and the Carnegie Hero Medal, for saving a woman from a sinking car that had been swept into floodwaters in Ames, Iowa, in 2010.  

The Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship for Service Program was established by the Department of Defense to support undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The program aims to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working at Department of Defense laboratories.

The Department of Physics & Astronomy is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. The College is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit.