Feature Article

25-Jun-2020

Particle Physicist Takes the Lead on Groundbreaking Electron Measurement

James Fast joins Jefferson Lab as project manager for MOLLER

DOE/Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

NEWPORT NEWS, VA - You could say that James "Jim" Fast is returning to his roots. A detector specialist early on in his career, he's now taken leadership of the MOLLER Project at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. The new project manager role will require his expertise in building a large, new detector and other systems. And to take on those new responsibilities, he's moving cross-country, from the Pacific Coast back to the East Coast, where he grew up.

Fast is a particle physicist who has a highly technical background of fundamental particle physics research, national security applications, mechanical engineering and expert project management. He has served various roles throughout his thirty-year career, including the development, design, construction, testing and operation of the detector systems that are central to realizing the challenging goals of particle physics experiments.

He developed an interest in advanced detector design and fabrication early on in his career. Fast has worked with solid-state detectors, such as silicon trackers, for particle physics. Later, he shifted his focus to high-purity germanium spectrometers for nuclear physics, particle physics and nuclear nonproliferation applications.

"I started to get involved with building detectors in graduate school," shared Fast. "I realized I had a passion for building the instruments that made the science happen, that made research possible. I was able to cultivate that as a grad student working on various research projects and being involved with high energy physics experiments."

After receiving his B.A. in physics and mathematics from Colby College in Maine, Fast earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Irvine, which he credits with the true start of his particle physics career. During his masters and then doctoral work, he worked on an experiment at DOE's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Fermilab experiment E-760 studied charmonium, the bound state of a charm quark and anti-quark pair.

From there, Fast moved to the CLEO experiment at Cornell University, where he continued studying heavy quarks as a postdoctoral research associate and then a senior research associate for Purdue University. He later joined Fermilab as an engineering physicist and DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) as a senior scientist. During his tenure at PNNL, he was promoted to the highest scientific rank of laboratory fellow and served as the sector manager of the Office of High Energy Physics, managing the lab's relationship with that sponsor.

Fast has been managing projects for more than twenty years, including a variety of multi-institutional projects for the DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration and Office of High Energy Physics. He will be transferring these important skills to his new role at Jefferson Lab to contribute to the MOLLER Experiment - the Measurement of a Lepton-Lepton Electroweak Reaction.

"I've had the opportunity to work with teams at Jefferson Lab through Department of Energy committees, and I'm looking forward to joining the MOLLER Experiment; it's a wonderful culture to be going into," commented Fast. "It has been a few years since I have focused on large pieces of equipment for the big science world instead of smaller rotating experiments."

The goal of the MOLLER Experiment is to obtain a precise measurement of the weak charge of the electron. A simple way to think of this is that the weak charge is a gauge of how much influence the weak force exerts on the electron. The weak force is one of the four fundamental forces of nature, which also include the electromagnetic, the strong force and gravity.

Beyond the Department of Energy, Fast is also involved in a number of professional associations and organizations to further the field. He is active in the American Physical Society, the Institute for Electric and Electronic Engineers, the Coordination Panel for Advanced Detectors, and he is currently serving on the High Energy Physics Basic Research Needs Workshop on Detector Research and Development, as well as the SNOWMASS 2021 decadal planning exercise.

Originally from the Northeast, Fast and his wife are looking forward to settling into their new home on the East Coast. He is an active car collector and currently has a number of vintage BMWs, ranging from 1956 through the mid-70's. Proof of his project management skills can be found in managing the move of that small fleet.

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Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. and PAE, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

DOE's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.