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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

‘The strongest force’

Cyclotron
Photo by Kevin Chou
Cyclotron

SciTech Battalion reporter Zachary Grinovich sat down with Sherry Yennello, chemistry professor and director of Texas A&M’s Cyclotron Institute, an on-campus particle accelerator, to discuss her career and the institute’s work.

THE BATTALION: What is it like being the director of the Cyclotron?

YENNELLO: It’s great because I have fabulous people to work with. I mean there are just amazing people in this building. The technical staff is great, our administrative staff is fabulous, the students are inquisitive…the faculty are fabulous. It really is about the people and the people are amazing and we’re doing great science. It has been a ride.

THE BATTALION: Why is the Cyclotron’s research important?

YENNELLO: It’s relevant in so many ways. The nuclear force is the strongest force known to man and the one we know the least about. From a basic inquisitive standpoint of what keeps nuclei together and how do we equilibrate energy, it’s amazingly fascinating. It also has applications to astrophysics. The sun is just a big ball of fusion and then when you see these pretty pictures that come out of the telescopes from NASA of supernovas, those are all just different nuclear reactions. We don’t really know what the masses are of some of these nuclei or what the half-lives are or what the reaction rates are and so some of the very basic things we study become really, really important to trying to understand why we have the composition of elements that we do that makes life on Earth happen. Plus we can use our facility to do things like radiation effects studies, which means that your cell phone will work because the chips in the satellites are radiation sound.

THE BATTALION: Do you have any advice for females in the STEM field?

YENNELLO: You have to do what you love to do, and if you love to do it don’t let any twits tell you that you can’t do it. I mean that’s sort of the bottom line. Some days people are going to tell you that you can’t do things for lots of reasons. I see it with my daughter and some of her teachers that say, “Well only boys are on the robotics programming team, you know, and the girls are on the advertising team.” That’s crap. So if you love science and if you love trying to figure out how the world works, don’t let anyone stop you from doing that. Find yourself supportive people, and this is good advice for everybody, that when you have a bad day you have people that can tell you it’s ok and can be encouraging and supportive to you. When you are the only girl in a class of all boys it can be hard. I imagine boys that are in nursing school might go through the same thing.

THE BATTALION: Can you describe how you became director of the Cyclotron?

YENNELLO: I was a kid who was interested in things. I had an awesome high school chemistry teacher, it’s true. I had nuclear chemistry in high school and it was fun and fascinating … I worked with a nuclear chemistry professor as an undergrad. Then I went to Indiana University as a graduate student and worked on an accelerator sort of like [the cyclotron]. I did my thesis south of Paris in a lab and went to Michigan State as a postdoc, before I finally came here as an assistant professor many years ago. In 1993 I came to Texas A&M and I have been here ever since. I assumed this role of director March a year and a half ago.

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    Photo by Kevin Chou
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    Photo by Kevin Chou
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