Physics Grad Student Headed to Los Alamos National Lab

By Allison Mills | Published

Chad Brisbois is one of 53 graduate students in the US to earn a place in the Department of Energy's Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program.

Brisbois, a physics PhD candidate at Michigan Technological University, is heading to the Los Alamos National Laboratory for several months later this year as part of the DOE program. He will be collaborating with researchers who run a specialized gamma-ray observatory called the High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) in Mexico.

For his PhD thesis, Brisbois analyzes binary systems where a compact object, such as a black hole or a neutron star, orbits a massive star. They emit periodic electromagnetic radiation in sync with their orbital motion—however, high-energy emissions, specifically called TeV gamma-ray emissions, are rare. For example, out of the billions of stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, researchers only know of five binary systems with such high-energy emissions.

"Part of the challenge to their detection is performing observations over a long enough period to detect their variability, which can range from days to decades," Brisbois says.

Due to the regularity and high energy of the emission from these gamma-ray binaries, they are natural laboratories to test Lorentz Invariance, a basic assumption on which relativity theory is based.

Chad Brisbois is part of a collaboration working on the High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) observatory in Mexico

"The HAWC observatory is one of very few instruments capable of observing these periodic sources for their entire period," says Petra Huentemeyer, an associate professor of physics at Michigan Tech and Brisbois' adviser.  " The Michigan Tech gamma-ray group, to which Chad and I belong, is an institutional member of the HAWC collaboration."

Through the DOE's SCGSR Program, Brisbois will be able to help upgrade the HAWC observatory and continue to refine binary system detection. He will join the ranks of other DOE-funded graduate students pursuing research at national laboratories. 

“The SCGSR program prepares graduate students for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) careers critically important to the DOE Office of Science mission,” says Steve Binkley, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science.  “We are proud of the accomplishments these outstanding students have already have made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come.”

Last Modified 10:05 AM, April 12, 2017


Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries around the world. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our beautiful campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.