Alicia versus GEANT4
Honours physics student Alicia Postuma’s research on the strong nuclear force is making a significant impression in the national and international physics community.
Postuma was recently recognized with the Students’ Choice Award at the 2021 Canadian Undergraduate Physics Conference, hosted virtually by Ryerson University this fall.
“My research focuses on particle physics and the strong nuclear force, which looks at the fundamental force that holds things, like protons and neutrons, together,” says Postuma. “I really like the ‘hands on’ nature of physics. It’s not just something I can learn from a book.”
There are a lot of unanswered questions around the strong force, some of which Postuma spent this past summer working to address. Working out of the Mount Allison experimental subatomic physics lab, Postuma conducted simulations and experiments. Learning coding, she discovered the limitations of certain software on low-energy particles, including GEANT4, for which her presentation is named. Using simulations allowed her to work remotely and try out several design ideas without a lot of resources normally found at large global research centres.
On December 6, Postuma will also be presenting her work virtually at the international A2 Collaboration meeting. The A2 Collaboration is an international group of researchers out of Mainz Microtron in Germany that endeavors to improve the understanding of the structure of mesons and nucleons by studying the photoproduction of the former off of the latter.
Although Postuma’s research has involved simulations for work at the Mainz Microtron, due to the pandemic, she has not been able to travel to Germany during her time at Mount Allison, completing all her research on campus.
Mount Allison physics professor Dr. David Hornidge is Postuma’s research supervisor. A member of the Royal Society’s College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists, Hornidge has a long-standing research program and partnership with the Mainz Microtron facility.
“It’s very rare for an undergraduate student to attend, let alone present at an international event such as the A2 Collaboration,” says Hornidge. “This speaks to the high level of Alicia’s project. I’m very proud of her research and know it will be significant for the Collaboration. I look forward to seeing her present her work to this international audience.”
Both Postuma and Hornidge hope submit the research study for publication in an academic journal and visit the Mainz Microtron in 2022.
Along with her research program and a busy course load, Postuma has worked as a teaching assistant in many physics classes and holds this year’s Pravin Varma Teaching Internship Award. Named in honour of Professor Emeritus Dr. Pravin K. Varma in 2010, the internship provides students, through a number of teaching and leadership opportunities, the chance to be mentored and develop teaching skills.
“Over the last year, I’ve worked with the physics department to help update a lab manual for a second-year course. This meant helping to redesign lab exercises and guiding students in writing their lab reports,” explains Postuma. “I’ve ended up being a TA in that class this year so it’s been great to use the manual I helped revamp and assist students in their lab reports for the experiments.”
Outside the physics realm, Postuma is a former soccer player with the Women’s Mounties and coaches youth soccer in both Sackville and her hometown of Quispamsis, NB.