W&M physicist wins Fulbright scholarship

Seth Aubin, associate professor of physics at the College of William and Mary, has been selected as a Fulbright Scholar for the 2014-15 academic year by Fulbright Canada.

Aubin will work at TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics in Vancouver, British Columbia. He will work with the francium parity non-conservation (FrPNC) experimental collaboration, which is setting up an experiment to observe the violation of parity symmetry in a sample of laser-cooled francium atoms.

Aubin explained that parity symmetry—also known as handedness symmetry—refers to the expectation that a system remains unchanged even if you reverse its spatial properties. Imagine an apple that has been somehow “flipped” into a mirror image of itself. Parity symmetry dictates that if the mirror image of Isaac Newton's apple fell from the tree, it would still be subject to the same gravitational acceleration as the original apple.

“Three of the four fundamental forces in the universe obey this intuitive symmetry: the electromagnetic force, gravity and the strong nuclear force,” Aubin said. “Remarkably, the weak nuclear force, which is responsible for radioactive decay, does not obey this symmetry and we don’t understand why.”

Aubin’s group at TRIUMF will work to bring an unprecedented level of accuracy to measuring the effect. The TRIUMF apparatus will use laser cooling to bring francium atoms down to micro-Kelvin temperatures.

“To put it crudely, we basically park a laser cooling apparatus on the end of a particle accelerator,” he explained.

He received a B.S. in physics from Yale University in 1995 and a License de Physique for coursework at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. He obtained his Ph.D. in physics in 2003 from SUNY Stony Brook for research on laser cooling of francium. During 2003-06, he worked as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, conducting research on Bose-Einstein condensates and degenerate Fermi gases. Between his undergraduate and graduate studies, he spent two years in the US Peace Corps as a math and physics teacher in Dalaba, Guinea, West Africa.