November 21, 2003  


Phinney Receives 2003 Marshall D. O’Neill Award

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 or bust!"

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.


The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center is managed by Stanford University for the US Department of Energy

Last update Wednesday November 19, 2003 by Kathy B