By Anna Gosline
Nan Phinney (NLC) was recently honored by Stanford University with the
2003 Marshall D. O’Neill Award. This award honors exceptional Stanford
employees who have made enduring contributions to the university’s
research enterprise—and Phinney certainly fits the bill.
Award Recipient Nan Phinney (NLC)
(Photo by Diana Rogers)
For more than 22 years Phinney has been providing steadfast leadership
to the Stanford Linear Collider (SLC), and has subsequently brought her
hard-won wisdom to the Next Linear Collider (NLC) project.
"I think that it is wonderful that Nan has won this award," said Burton
Richter, director emeritus of SLAC. "She has done so many wonderful things
for this laboratory, particularly her work on the SLC."
After earning her doctorate in physics from the State University of New
York in Stony Brook, Phinney worked at CERN for nine years. She came to
SLAC in 1981 as one of the first physicists hired to work on the ambitious
SLC. This was the first prototype of a new generation of electron-positron
colliders built to produce and study the Z-boson.
"The SLC was brand new technology that turned out to have a lot of
teething difficulties we didn’t expect," said Richter, who appointed
Phinney SLC Program Coordinator in 1990.
As the leader of the SLC, she was responsible for bringing the
beleaguered project up to its design standards to produce large numbers of
Z particles—a task she found both harrowing and rewarding.
"The SLC was a very exciting project," Phinney said. "It was the most
difficult accelerator that anyone had ever worked on. It burned out a lot
of people, but a whole generation of young physicists went on to become
leaders in their field at accelerators throughout the world."
Phinney and her team of physicists worked seven days a week, even on
holidays, to keep up SLC performance. She even offered pizza coupons to
crews that delivered record breaking numbers of z-particles. "By the end,
they had coupons for more pizza than they could ever eat," she said.
Under Phinney’s guidance the SLC started to live up to its potential;
she tackled problems bit by bit and never promised DOE review committees
more than she could deliver. But when funding for the final SLC run was in
doubt, Phinney strayed from her usually conservative estimates of SLC
performance, confident in the enormous strides the team had made. "I
basically promised DOE the moon and we delivered it; 250 z-events an hour
Without the dogged perseverance of Phinney and her team, the SLC would
not have contributed such advancements to physics. Experiments that used
the SLC still boast the world’s best measurement of the critical weak
mixing angle. This measurement—which determines the degree of mixing
between electromagnetic and weak forces—is a key parameter of the Standard
Model for fundamental particles.
Since the final run of the SLC in 1998, Phinney has worked as the
Deputy Leader of NLC Accelerator Physics, an international collaboration
to build the next generation linear collider based on SLAC technology. Her
experience with SLC has given her unparalleled insight into the design of
this project as she continues to work for the future of linear
accelerators and particle.