Some 14 billion years ago, in the first millionth of a second after the Big Bang, the matter that surrounds us today didn't exist — no molecules, no atoms, not even protons or electrons. What did exist was a hot soup of quarks and gluons, but that quickly cooled and coalesced into the matter that now makes up the universe. All the quarks and gluons were then ensconced within electrons, neutrons, and protons.

Over the last five years, something akin to that initial quark-gluon plasma has been recreated by the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Two fast-moving beams of particles — gold ions, for example — smash together head-on, and the collisions between gold ions create little pinpricks of energy 10,000 times hotter than the sun. The collisions also spew out as many as 6,000 subatomic particles. Like their original Big Bang counterparts, they vanish almost instantly, so the job of detecting them and recording data for later study must be swift and precise.

That's what Ben has been working at Brookhaven for two years. He helped to develop a new detection system for Phenix, one of the five teams running RHIC experiments. The Phenix collaboration consists of 450 scientists from 12 countries.

Ben's main task was writing the software for the improved detector. The former system regularly made goofs by combining data from two separate collisions. Ben's program not only avoids such errors but also does a better job of sifting through the collision data to count the number of each variety of particle--plus, it's also faster. So the Phenix team expects to use his software for all future analyses.

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S.Y. "Ben" Huang

Longwood High School
Middle Island, N.Y.

Hobbies: Piano, trombone, origami, chess, economics

Ambition: Teaching science