Nicole (Nikki) Apadula

Visible Spectrum is a series to spotlight talented and dedicated women employees across the Lab

January 11, 2022

Nicole (Nikki) Apadula is a project scientist in the Physical Sciences area whose group has been working to assemble, test, and transport detector pieces for an upgrade of the ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment) detector array at CERN laboratory in Europe, and has most recently built the two middle layers for the ALICE Inner Tracking System upgrade. ALICE, a nuclear physics experiment, is designed to collide high-energy lead ions with one another and with protons to explore superhot matter known as quark-gluon plasma that is thought to have existed in the early universe.

She is also supporting the monolithic active pixel sensor vertex detector (MVTX) upgrade for an upcoming experiment at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). In addition, she is contributing to the tracking research and development effort for a planned detector at the upcoming electron-Ion Collider (eIC).

Outside of the Lab, Nikki enjoys hiking with her two young boys and having family game nights at local breweries around the Bay Area.

What inspired you to work at Berkeley Lab?

I was drawn to the culture and atmosphere at the Lab and the opportunities I would get working with leaders in my field. And I enjoy the problem solving challenges that come with working with hardware. For me, it’s exciting to work on state-of-the-art detector technologies and have a large impact on the data the ALICE detector will gather for the next 10 years.

What does your current scientific project or research entail?

My current research is on high-energy, heavy-ion collisions at the large hadron collider (LHC) using the ALICE detector. We study the properties of the quark-gluon plasma (QGP), which we believe is the state of matter that occurred right after the Big Bang and might be present in the center of neutron stars. Though we have learned a lot about the QGP over the last decade, we still have more to learn and new detectors are being designed and built for a new set of precision measurements.

I also work in the lab about one day a week contributing to the MVTX silicon detector upgrade for the upcoming sPHENIX experiment. Finally, I have joined the effort for the tracking detectors being planned for a future eIC detector.

What have you been most proud of in your work?

Our small team here at the Lab is extremely proud of putting together the entire two middle layers of the ALICE Inner Tracking System upgrade. This accomplishment means more to me because it was my first time working in a formal supervisory role and on such a large scale project, spanning institutions across the world. I think we were well-prepared and came up with a good plan that drove us to success with the end result.

My proudest moments at work are with the teams I’ve worked with to build detectors. I’ve had wonderful experiences (and luck!) with the people that I’ve worked with. Detector projects are time-consuming and you need to work with people you can trust and solve problems with.

Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter and/or succeed in your field of work?

If you especially want to do hardware-based work, it is important to start early and gain as much experience as possible. Take the chance to do hands-on research whenever you can. Talk to professors and mentors to see what kind of opportunities may be available. Search online and find different programs and experiences; shadowing, watching, and some grunt work is likely where you’ll start at the beginning, but these experiences build skills that are necessary to succeed in this line of work.

How can our community engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I think it is important to volunteer our time and engage in outreach with women and other underrepresented groups. Representation matters - people are more likely to pick these career paths if they have similar experiences and role models to look to. I think it is also important to engage people early and often.