Thomas Frank ’77, PhD ’85

by Erin McGrath // MIT Physics Annual 2010

Tom Frank (center) and his Frank Fellows
Tom Frank ’77 PhD ’85 (center) and his Frank Fellows

Tom Frank knew from a young age that he was destined for MIT and in high school a passionate teacher inspired his love of physics. Since arriving on campus, Tom devoted his life to research and discovery in the field of physics.

MIT at once felt like home and exceeded his expectations. “There was so much available in terms of research, talks, colloquia and brilliant teachers,” said Tom. Francis Low became a scientific hero of mine who was within arm’s reach.” Tom spent the next twelve years at the Institute working towards his undergraduate degree, which he received in ’77, and then his PhD in ’85. Tom spent the majority of his graduate years building analysis software and experimental instruments, and was invited to spend two years at the prestigious physics research facility Fermilab in Batavia, IL. Tom was privileged to have Dick Yamamoto as his thesis advisor and mentor.

I’m a huge believer in the Institute — these young people are the future of our society and it’s a privilege to get to know these bright minds. By supporting them, I’m doing my little part, but the faculty and students are pulling the weight.

Thomas Frank (’77, PhD ’85)

In addition to the rewarding experiences at MIT and Fermilab, Tom was inspired to support the Physics Department through fellowships by then-Department Head Marc Kastner, who made financial support for physics students a top priority of the Department. Tom said that as a graduate student he was supported by government grants and has made it a priority to provide other physics students with the opportunity to follow their passion. Thanks to Tom, and other members of the Patrons of Physics Fellows, more first-year students can focus on crystallizing their interests and choosing a path, rather than working as a teaching or research assistant.

Tom has supported a total of seven students in the Physics Department with first-year fellowships. He enjoys learning about each student’s area of research and is inspired by their passion and energy. “I’m a huge believer in the Institute—these young people are the future of our society and it’s a privilege to get to know these bright minds,” said Tom. “By supporting them, I’m doing my little part, but the faculty and students are pulling the weight.”

Tom is currently Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Interactive Brokers LLC, a trading company in Greenwich, CT, where he has helped to grow the company for over 25 years. Tom feels at home in Boston and spends most weekends here and is often on campus attending physics lectures and events. He is a member of the Physics Visiting Committee.

Ben Jones, First-Year Graduate Student and Frank Fellow

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Ben Jones, Frank Fellow

Ben Jones, a first-year graduate student from the UK, is working with Prof. Janet Conrad in the field of neutrino physics. He completed his undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences (with a specialization in Physics) at the University of Cambridge, and then worked for a year on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva.

“My research was based on work I had done with the University of Bristol the previous summer, seeking evidence of split supersymmetry by looking for the decays of long-lived, stopped, heavy superparticles in the CMS detector. I submitted my graduate school applications reasonably early during my time at CERN, to institutions which seemed to me to be having a significant impact upon the experiment. The MIT group appeared to be a very prominent force.”

“I was accepted to several prestigious particle physics groups, but as decision time approached I had begun to suspect that perhaps despite all the glamour and publicity, the LHC may not be the experiment for me. I wanted the freedom to explore ideas and be a driving force within my collaboration. So when I had to choose my graduate school, I was in a somewhat difficult situation. Many universities had offered me positions where I would be tied into the LHC groups, and where I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be. However, thanks to the Frank Fellowship, at MIT I have had the opportunity to find a field that is a good fit.”

“Thanks to the support of the Fellowship I have had the chance to take theoretical courses on quantum chromodynamics and quantum field theory and explore the possibility of research in various fields. Now I work on the MicroBooNE experiment, where I have responsibilities in developing the optical systems for the experiment and writing the detector software. I am also about to start work on a phenomenology paper about the spin structure of the nucleon.”

“Having been at MIT for six months, I am beginning to find my feet in my research group. I am very excited about progressing as a scientist on the MicroBooNE experiment, which is a novel type of neutrino detector based on looking for tracks left by neutrinos interacting with a volume of liquid argon. MicroBooNE will run at Fermilab and may shed light on several unanswered questions about neutrinos and their interactions. Neutrinos are some of the least understood known fundamental particles in the universe, primarily because they interact so weakly with the rest of the particles of nature. However, the physics of neutrinos is thought to have played a key role in the process of leptogenesis, which is the mechanism by which the very early universe crystallized into the matter we see around us, rather than simply a maelstrom of matter and antimatter destined to explosively recombine and eventually end up as a sea of featureless, dispersed energy.”

“Neutrinos may also play key roles in the supernovae explosions which populated the universe with the heavy elements. They may have applications in the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons. And, as recently confirmed by the Borexino experiment, they may shed light on the mechanics of nuclear reactions in the mantle of the Earth. As our ability to detect and measure these elusive particles increases, there will doubtless be a plethora of other new physics opportunities. I am extremely pleased to have found my way into this exciting and developing field.”

“I’d like to thank Tom Frank for his fantastic generosity in supporting MIT, physics research, the field of neutrino physics and my education with this Fellowship. I am extremely grateful!”