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Ketevi Assamagan

Physicist Ketevi A. Assamagan was born in Port-Gentil, Gabon in West Aftrica on March 12, 1963. After graduating from high school, Assamagan attended the University of Benin in Togo, West Africa and earned his B.S. degree in physics and chemistry in 1985. Assamagan was then awarded an U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) grant award to persue higher education in the United States. He went on to graduate from Ball State University in 1989 with his M.S. degree in theoretical condensed matter physics and his Ph.D. degree in nuclear and particle physics from the University of Virginia in 1995.

After earning his Ph.D. degree, Assamagan became a postdoctoral research associate in the Jefferson Lab at Hampton University. There, he worked on a project called the spectrometer wire chamber, which helped gather information about light. Assamagan developed a system for the rotation and angular position of the spectrometer, which contributed to its data collection of certain properties of light. Assamagan remained at Hampton until 1998, when he took a position as a research associate at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. From 1998 to 2001, Assamagan worked with CERN’s particle accelerator to find the Higgs Boson, a large elementary particle whose existence has not yet been proven. It is thought to play a role in how other elementary particles get their masses. In 2001, Assamagan was hired by the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory where he works on a physics project called the ATLAS Project. In addition to his research in particle physics, Assamagan has also supervised and mentored both graduate and undergraduate students. Additionally, he helped to organize the African School of Fundamental Physics, an educational workshop funded in part by Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Assamagan is a member of the American Physics Society, the National Society of Black Physicist, and the African Physical Society. He is a recipient of the Brookhaven National Laboratory Outstanding Student Mentoring Award.

Assamagan lives and works in New York.

Physicist Ketevi A. Assamagan was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 12, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.104

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

4/12/2013

Last Name

Assamagan

Maker Category
Middle Name

Adikle

Occupation
Schools

University of Benin

Ball State University

University of Virginia

Search Occupation Category
Archival Photo 2
First Name

Ketevi

Birth City, State, Country

Gabon

HM ID

ASS03

Favorite Season

Summer

Favorite Vacation Destination

Anywhere Warm

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Interview Description
Birth Date

3/12/1963

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Upton

Country

West Africa

Short Description

Physicist Ketevi Assamagan (1963 - ) has worked on the cutting edge of physics research at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland.and for the the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Employment

University of Virginia

Hampton University

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Favorite Color

Gray

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Ketevi Assamagan's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan describes the family life of the Fon tribe

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the slave trade in the Kingdom of Dahomey

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his paternal grandmother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his paternal grandfather

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his father

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan shares a West African parable

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his father's occupation as an auto mechanic

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about how his parents' marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about religion

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan describes the religion of the Fon

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan compares Catholicism and the Fon religion

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his childhood neighborhood in Togo

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about music in Togo

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his primary school

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about living with his grandparents during primary school

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his primary school

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his experience in primary school

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about living in Aneho, Togo for middle school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the difficulty of obtaining education in Togo

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his middle school education and Gnassingbe Eyadema

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his mentors in middle school

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his high school

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his mentors in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about being left-handed in Togo

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Ketevi Assamagan describes graduating from high school

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about paying for his university education pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about paying for his university education pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his time at the University of Benin

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the lack of instruments and facilities at the University of Benin

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his extracurricular activities at the University of Benin

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about receiving a scholarship to attend graduate school in the United States

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his transition from Togo to Ball State University

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his time at Ball State University

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his extracurricular activities at Ball State University

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the transition from Ball State University to the University of Virginia

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his time at the University of Virginia

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his doctoral dissertation

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his time as a post-doctoral fellow at Hampton University

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his research at Hampton University and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Ketevi Assamagan describes the Higgs boson pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the Higgs boson pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan describes how an accelerator works pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan describes how an accelerator works pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan describes how an accelerator works pt. 3

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his work on the muon spectrometer

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his positions in the ATLAS project

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan describes the pile-up problem in particle accelerators

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan describes being the Higgs Working Group Convener for ATLAS

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his involvement in scientific collaborations

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan describes teaching in South Africa

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the discovery of a Higgs-like particle pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the discovery of a Higgs-like particle pt. 2

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the Large Hadron Collider pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the Large Hadron Collider pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the research of the ATLAS project pt. 1

Tape: 9 Story: 2 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about the research of the ATLAS project pt. 2

Tape: 9 Story: 3 - Ketevi Assamagan reflects on his life

Tape: 9 Story: 4 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his involvement in mentoring students

Tape: 9 Story: 5 - Ketevi Assamagan reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 9 Story: 6 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about his family

Tape: 9 Story: 7 - Ketevi Assamagan describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 10 Story: 1 - Ketevi Assamagan talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

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DATape

6$9

DAStory

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DATitle
Ketevi Assamagan describes his doctoral dissertation
Ketevi Assamagan talks about the research of the ATLAS project pt. 1
Transcript
Tell us what your Ph.D. dissertation was about.$$Yeah, no, it was about measuring the fraction of the time where the, you know, an elementary particle that we call the pion decays in a particular way. So where, which is like one part, in 108. That's, you know, how rare it is, this decay. But we wanted to find that and measure that particular rate precisely. One part in 108 is what the theories tell us. We wanted to measure it. And if we do that with very good precision, we should be able to extract some theoretical predictions which will help us understand what we call the standard model. So--$$So the standard model, explain what that is for people who are watching this. Well, what is the standard model in physics?$$Yeah, the standard model is basically of particle, fundamental particle physics. It's basically a collection of our understanding of how fundamental particle work and what are the forces that governs their inaction with matter, you know, as we know in the universe. So--$$Is this like a theory of matter, like the basic theory?$$Yeah, it is--yes, it's a collection of theories that fits together to create a picture of nature for us, for the standard, for the fundamental particles.$$And the, but there's still a lot of questions involved in the standard, but it's not just--it's not a fixed standard or is there a lot of questions within that being answered all the time or people are trying to work on, right?$$Yes, it's, we have realized that it is theory that has been proven against experiment. So we believe that our understanding is on the right track. But there are lot of things that we still don't understand so it's clear that a standard model, although it has been very successful, cannot be the complete view of nature. There are a lot of things that we still don't understand and that nowadays in particle physics, we call them "beyond the standard model". So these are things that, new things that we should find to clarify our understanding for it.$$Okay, so you were studying, what they call the p-meson (unclear) (simultaneous)--$$Yeah, it's the pion, yeah, (simultaneous)--$$Pion meson--$$Yeah, it's the pi-meson, yeah.$$Okay.$$So, it has a particular decay. If you measure that precisely, it will tell us a lot of information about the standard. For example, why do we have three type of neutrinos? Why hasn't nature made four type, you know? And so if you measure these things, perimeter precisely, it will tell us whether there's room for the fourth one. So that's what we were studying in this experiment.$$And by decay of a particle, we're talking, I mean we're talking about a period where the particle exists and then it fades out of existence or some--or what is it?$$Yeah, exactly. A lot of these particles, they are unstable. So it's like radioactive decay, if you will. So they have what we call a mean lifetime. So if you have ten thousand of them sitting there at one time, and you came back two years later, by then they would have all decay away or a fraction of them would have decay. So, and many of these particles, they exist very briefly. So they are created, and then they begin to disappear by disintegrating. So the energy has to be conserved, yeah. So in physics, we hold true the fundamental understanding that energy is not lost. It's always conserved. So the particle is created with some energy, and then disintegrate into other particles, and the energy that is used to create it, is still one that is used to create the new particle into which it has disintegrated. So when you do energy balance, you have to check out. But a lot of these particles that we see, they don't live very long.$$Okay, so what did you find out, in your research on the pion?$$Yeah, so what we did was, when we measured this rate, we improved the precision quite a lot over previous measurement. It wasn't, we were not a first to measure this way. And, but because the previous measurement didn't have a good precision, there was a lot of room for uncertainty. You couldn't tap because the measurement has a lot of errors, I mean not errors, but uncertainty as we call it. So we redesigned the experiment in order to reduce those uncertainties so that our measurement will be precise. The more precise it is, you know, you will be in a better position to say, "Okay, we know this parameter to this precision. Therefore, there is not much room for speculation or for other things." So we are able to improve the precision on the measurement by quite a huge factor. And it was 4 percent, the previous measurement. We got it to, we got it down to point--half a percent, to half a percent. So that was almost a factor of eight improvement in the precision, so, which was very good because it eliminated a lot of speculations about the existence of this more than three type of neutrinos and things like that. So it means that our measurement says that the standard model assumption, if you will, of neutrinos is more or less, you know, more and more correct. In fact, we don't--if there is any provability of a fourth generation of these neutrinos, it's very, very small. And that's what our, you know--whereas the previous measurement could not say that more effectively.$Can you talk about the objectives of the ATLAS Physics project? I know that, I mean I've--I was reading a poster in the room when I came in. And the first objective was, it was to discover the unknown, unknown information (unclear)--$$Yeah, so it's, the program is really to be sensitive to phenomena in physics, phenomena in nature that we don't know yet or we're not familiar with. And progress in physics have been made that way, you know. More than a hundred years ago, people did not know the electron. They didn't know x-rays. They just were doing various experiments. These things show up and they have to study them, but when they saw them, then it really got interest and they studied further. And nowadays, electrons are used in all of the, our electronics things, as we call it, come from the understanding from what electron was, which people did not sit down and design. So that was the unknown at that point. That's what also we want to find out. If there's something out there that we could be sensitive to, we want to know about it because ultimately, it could benefit society. Today, the electron, all of our electronic stuff are based on our understanding of, you know, what the electron is and how to use it and so forth, you know.$$Okay, and now what about dark matter? What is ATLAS trying to do with dark matter?$$Yeah, we also want to discover what is the nature of dark matter. It is believed that our visible universe is not the full--doesn't carry the full mass of the universe as we know it. In other words, if you, you know, sit down and say, "Okay, I want to compute all of the masses that are in the universe," put them together and start adding them up, you know. Now, which you could do. There are the stars, all of the planet, the galaxies, we can do that. So that's our visible universe, things that we can see with the naked eye or we see from our telescope and so forth. When you do that, you come out to be like 4 percent of what is out there in the universe, 4, 4 percent. That means 96 percent is something else. Then, you know, matter as we know it, take the stars, galaxy, so forth. You add them up together. It's a very small fraction of our universe. Then, you know, people have studies how stars rotate in galaxies and how galaxies rotate, you know, around each other and things like that. And they have seen some deviation from Newton's Law. Newton's Law tell us exactly how these things should rotate. And from that deviation, you can infer that there is a large amount of matter in the universe that we are not directly sensitive to, which is called dark matter. It effects the rotation of some of these galaxies, some of these stars and galaxies and so forth. We cannot see it, but we know that these things are not obeying the laws of physics as we know it unless you assume that it's a large mass that is affecting them. So that is some dark matter, and that's like 23 percent of the universe. And then the rest is what we call dark energy. The rest, you know, if you take the 4 percent, 23 percent, you subtract out of the 100 percent, what is left is what we call dark energy. But it's even more bizarre than what we understand. Like, you know, we know, for example, galaxies are drifting away from each other. And the further they are, the further they are, the faster they are drifting away. And we don't know what this new force, or what is pushing them apart, but we know from Newton's Law, if you have two large bodies, they should be attracting each other. And so there is something bigger than gravity pulling this stuff apart. And that's what is dark energy. But at the LHC [Large Hadron Collider, with the Atlas detector we believe that we could be sensitive to detect a candidate of dark matter. The dark matter would be particle just like the Higgs boson or the proton or something. And we could be sensitive to it, and, and so that's one of the objective, to see whether dark matter is a particle of that could show up in the LHC experiment.