Carnegie Mellon University
June 01, 2023

Amy Germer Wins Gilman Award

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Amy Germer is driven when it comes to subatomic physics research and Carnegie Mellon University Buggy.

"Research is what I want to do for the rest of my life," said Germer, who graduated with a double major in physics and mathematical sciences. "There's something really profound and whimsical about the ways we seek answers to questions about the world around us."

Germer began research with Manfred Paulini, professor of physics and associate dean for faculty and graduate affairs in the Mellon College of science as a sophomore. She collaborated on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, which operates at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland.

The CMS experiment investigates extra dimensions and particles that could make up dark matter. Since many terabytes of data are generated by the CMS experiment, researchers needed a way to automatically detect anomalies without combing through large data sets. Germer used machine learning to help improve this monitoring.

0601_gilman-award-germer_buggy.jpg"While taking classes in parallel, Amy made more progress on the project in the first four weeks of the spring semester than some students made in an entire semester," Paulini said. "Before I was able to point Amy in the right direction, she often had already found the right information from other graduate students or our engineer and had ideas on how to proceed on a project."

During the fall of 2022, Germer began working with Diana Parno, associate professor of physics. As part of the Parno Group, Germer helps develop neutrino detectors. These particles are smaller than atoms, and physicists know little about them. Germer's goal in the lab is to use specialized equipment, known as photomultiplier tubes, to see if they can detect neutrinos.

"Amy is a very sharp experimentalist, able not only to identify something that looks wrong a vital skill!  but also to think critically about possible causes," Parno said. "She tracked down a systematic response difference between data sets, tracing it to small movements of the LED flasher system that we were using as a light source."

Outside of research, Germer has served as a teaching assistant for computer science courses, and she provides one-on-one coding lessons to K-12 students. However, one of Germer's favorite experiences at Carnegie Mellon has been CIA Buggy.

"The biggest source of support has been my Buggy team," Germer said. "By the end of Buggy, you're surrounded by 50 or so people who you trust to show up at 4 a.m. on a weekend consistently for you. That's a really unique sense of trust that you can have for other people. Some of my closest friends are through Buggy."

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, a difficult course load of math and physics and a myriad of research projects, Germer said Buggy helped her hit the ground running and stay in the race. She has been a mechanic, a pusher, a chairman and an emergency driver.

"I had a sense of what it looked like. I had seen all our footage over and over again, so I knew how fast it would be. The biggest surprise for me was how confining it is," Germer said.

She's used her myriad of experiences across the Buggy team to make the vehicles safer for drivers and less strenuous for pushers.

Because of her growth and her dedication to her work, Germer was one of two students awarded the Mellon College of Science Gilman Award. Veronique Wright, who graudated with a combined degree in biological sciences and psychology, was the other. The award is presented to graduating seniors who have developed as scholars, professionals, citizens and people during their time at Carnegie Mellon.

Germer will finish her current research projects over the summer. This fall, she will start a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Pennsylvania where she plans to assist with the T2K Neutrino Experiment in Japan. Despite leaving Carnegie Mellon, she will still have the support from Tartans like her Buggy team.

"The nice thing is that a lot of my team members are graduating and moving on to new places, and many of them are moving to places that will be very accessible from Philadelphia," Germer said. "I've gotten here through the help of a very large community of people around me, and I have them all to thank for this."

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