UNH Student From Berlin Goes
From Building Racecars To Space-Based Detectors
Contact: David Sims
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space
College of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Jan. 26, 2005
DURHAM, N.H. -- Alan Enman builds racecars. So, naturally, University
of New Hampshire astrophysicist Jim Connell chose the mechanical
engineering junior from a field of 11 candidates to help build a
device that would degrade a beam of high-energy calcium-48 nuclei
at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at Michigan
“Jim mentioned that one reason they wanted me on the team
was because of my experience building racecars. They said they’d
be throwing me some odd problems to solve and maybe the race car
experience would give me an advantage,” says Enman.
Since 1997, the Berlin, N.H. native has designed racecars, done
mechanical fabrication, welded, and “even done some driving.”
Last August, Connell, of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans,
and Space (EOS) and Department of Physics, fellow astrophysicist
Bruce McKibben and Enman spent 10 days at the NSCL conducting tests
on Connell’s Angle Detecting Inclined Sensor instrument, or
ADIS, which is intended to fly on future space missions. The group
continues to analyze data from last summer’s tests and make
refinements to the instrument. They hope to return to NSCL with
an improved instrument some time next year.
In addition to a “nimble mind, ” Connell explains, “Alan
knew how things fit into a system and was used to working in a team
This latter skill would come in particularly handy when, at the
NSCL, Connell, McKibben, and Enman spent 22 straight hours testing
the ADIS instrument as the cyclotron blasted it with calcium-48
Says Enman, “It definitely wasn’t my first all’nighter.
It’s also not something that everyone gets to do – work
at a superconducting cyclotron on an instrument that may go into
Connell’s ADIS instrument, an archetype of design simplicity
and elegance, uses four small disks about the size of a quarter
and positioned at varying angles of inclination to intercept high-energy
ions in space and measure their energy, direction and composition.
Connell’s work is funded by a three-year, $140,000 per year
grant from NASA.
In the past, such measurements have required elaborate position
sensing detectors that measure the position of these particles.
Additionally, to interpret the data from position sensing detectors,
a series of corrections and mathematical calculations must be performed.
Says Connell, “It turns out that the mathematics required
to analyze the data from ADIS is very simple compared to position
sensing detectors, so we can program this into the data-processing
unit on the flight instrument and let it analyze the data in flight.”
This saves money and time spent on measuring and transmitting data.
Before any space-based data can be had, ADIS needed an initial test
run. And this is where Enman’s skills, and stamina, came in.
In order to “degrade” the beam being generated by the
superconducting cyclotron and, thereby, replicate the large range
of energies of particles in space, Enman was charged with building
a simple, inexpensive contraption that would do the trick.
“My specific instructions to him were, ‘It ain’t
gotta be pretty, it’s just gotta work.’ The device met
both those criteria, and I was very pleased with it,” Connell
The device, dubbed “the guillotine,” was five-feet high,
two-feet wide and outfitted with an inexpensive, 1-rpm display-case
motor that powered an aluminum wedge of varying thickness. The wedge
moved vertically up and down the frame once every minute to degrade
the beam energy and allow Connell and company to get a range of
energies that would be encountered in space.
And so, for 22 straight hours, Enman swapped out ADIS detector discs,
changing sizes and angles to generate data that will allow Connell
to refine the instrument.
Says Enman, “Playing with $2,000 quarters every half hour
gets stressful after a while, especially when you’re on your
Remarkably, not a single, fragile disk was destroyed during the
marathon. Of his experience, which also included designing test
fixtures for calibrating the detectors with radioactive sources,
Enman adds, “I didn’t really have any intention of getting
into space science, but after all this there’s always that
Is there a chance that he’ll repay Connell for the unique
research opportunity by building the scientist a racecar?
“No,” Connell says flatly. Turning towards Enman, Connell,
tongue firmly in cheek, adds, “But what I should do is turn
him loose on what I’ve got now. You want to put a turbocharger
on my Beamer?”
EDITORS: Two digital photos are available:
Caption#1: The Angle Detecting Inclined Sensor (ADIS) instrument
Caption#2: UNH Astrophysicist Jim Connell and UNH junior Alan Enman