From Counting Bees to Detecting Tiny Particles, Grad Student Fulfilling Promise

November 6, 2023
Tyler Horoho

Tyler Horoho said the Department of Energy research award will allow him to receive technical training at the Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. (Photo by Yongyi Wu)

From chasing subatomic particles to counting bees, Tyler Horoho’s varied research pursuits have led him to work and study at some of the nation’s top laboratories, thanks to a Department of Energy research award.

Horoho, a fourth-year doctoral student in physics at the University of Virginia, is one of 60 recipients of a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research Award. This award permits recipients to carry out part of their doctoral dissertation research in Department of Energy national laboratories, providing a stipend and tuition support for up to three years. 

“This fellowship is a great opportunity for my career,” Horoho said. “It will allow me to receive technical training and make connections that would otherwise be harder to come by. I applied with the hope that this training will help round out my skills and make me a better candidate for postdoc opportunities.”

Horoho is part of the Mu2e – for “muons to electrons” – experiment, which seeks evidence of muons decaying into electrons and no other particles with unprecedented precision. Muons are fundamental subatomic particles, the basic building blocks of the environment, and UVA physicists have been working with Department of Energy scientists on a detector to observe muons as they decay. 

Final Exercises 2024, Learn More
Final Exercises 2024, Learn More

“This measurement will only be possible if we can properly identify and veto false signal events originating from muons created by cosmic rays,” Horoho said. “For this, Mu2e will use a Cosmic Ray Veto system, an array of 83 particle detectors surrounding the experiment, which I will work to calibrate and commission as part of my thesis.”

But Horoho’s pursuits are not limited to muons. During a gap year between his undergraduate studies at Indiana University and graduate school, Horoho worked as a physics intern for The Bee Corp, an Indianapolis-based agricultural technology company, where his contributions got him credit on a U.S. patent. He helped develop technology for estimating a beehive’s population by using infrared images of the hive. 

“This is a non-invasive way to assess hive strength, and the technology is primarily used by almond farmers who rely on bees to pollinate almond trees every year,” Horoho said. “The challenge is that since the bees aren’t directly seen, you have to infer the population by the heat signature from outside. My role was to develop a model to simulate hive behavior and heat transfer inside the hive.”

Horoho is involved in major experiments with the UVA Frontier Physics Group, including a dark matter search, measuring properties of another subatomic particle called a neutrino, and the search for new physics with the Mu2e experiment. 

Tyler Horoho
Tyler Horoho stands in front of Wilson Hall, a building at the heart of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, in which he is pursuing his study of muons. (Photo by Yongyi Wu)

“Tyler Horoho joined the physics department in the fall of 2020, during the height of the COVID pandemic,” Craig Dukes, professor of experimental high energy physics, said. “He was highly recruited and received a departmental fellowship upon entering UVA. His promise of being an outstanding graduate student has been fulfilled.”

Dukes said Horoho’s Department of Energy award will allow him to work with Yuri Oksuzian, a former UVA postdoctoral researcher and current Argonne National Laboratory staff scientist, on the Mu2e experiment.

Horoho, from Kokomo, Indiana, holds a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and a Bachelor of Science in physics, both from Indiana. After earning a doctorate, he plans to continue physics research in a setting where he can also mentor students. 

“I did undergraduate physics research at Indiana University,” he said. “This research is what led me to be interested in precision measurement experiments to probe for fundamental physics like Mu2e.

“I’m very excited to have the opportunity to work with talented folks at Argonne on a critical component of a major high-energy physics experiment,” he continued. “I think this award is a testament to the important work being done in the research group I’m a part of at UVA.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications