Distinguished Staff Award
Photograph of David Peterson

David Peterson

Engineering Technician, Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics & Astrophysics

Nominated by David Hertzog, Professor, Physics

Awarded 2016

We jointly write–and with great enthusiasm–to nominate David Peterson for the University of Washington’s Distinguished Staff Award. David is an extraordinary, yet humble, electronics technician at UW’s Center for Experimental Nuclear Physics and Astrophysics (CENPA), which is a designated DOE Center of Excellence and a pride of this campus. David has affected the work of many world-leading efforts in fundamental physics experiments through his expertise, his work ethic, his level of commitment to the success of projects, and his ability to collaborate with many individuals at all levels (professors, research scientists, staff members and students). David is, by any measure, some kind of “magician.” He fabricates electronics boards and repairs components that neither of the two of us writing this letter can even see well with the naked eye.

A (tiny) example of David’s work is development of a 1-inch square, double-sided electronics board, having 96 microscopic circuit elements, all hand soldered by David and precisely tested. Over the two years, we’ve asked David to build about 14 different versions of this thing as we keep tweaking the design. Sometimes, David has to build many copies so we can test them in an array application. This particular board is a revolutionary pixelated silicon chip (SiPM) and amplifier that can replace photomultipliertubes in nuclear, particle and medical physics applications. David has been central to the team trying to design and realize this device. For our application, it will attach to an array of beautiful crystals, forming a large complex detector UW is building for a major international experiment at Fermilab. The project needs 1400 of them. David researched companies to provide automatic board stuffing – he could not possibly make them all by hand – and he arranged visits to local vendors to evaluate their techniques. Eventually, he was only satisfied with an out-of-state company that is presently making small batches under David’s directions and control. Upon receipt, David evaluates the finished products before we see them. We are required by the DOE to develop a full Quality Control test procedure beyond visual inspection. We assigned a new postdoc in our group to develop this process, but he didn’t quite know where to start. David helped guide the postdoc and turn his crude ideas into a Level 0 Test Station. David built a control board that flashed 16 LEDs in a dedicated pattern, and provided readout and evaluative information allowing a reliable and quick test of each device. Our postdoc didn’t know much at first, just that he “needed it.” David patiently guided the process in his unique and gentle manner. The Tester is working, and my postdoc has had a small private education. He is beaming with pride, but the backbone was David’s contribution.

David Peterson has influenced each and every project at CENPA. Our laboratory carries out leading nuclear physics research at home and at facilities around the world. Each experiment typically involves 10’s to 100’s of collaborators, overall budgets up to $100M, and about a decade or more of dedicated effort. The scientific impact can be very high, and the stakes in these experiments are equally high and demanding. UW takes on a leadership role and is a major provider of the most complex instrumentation. Electronics design and production – unique items, nothing you could buy – are among our strongest points. David Peterson is central to this mission. Although he is a technician, he has continuously educated himself on modern electronics design tools so that he can fully participate in all decisions and provide advice to the science team on how to best achieve an outcome. He uses the latest design and board layout software, and he is fully familiar with all aspects of component evaluation and purchasing that are necessary to turn plans into realities.

Recently, we realized that the aforementioned SiPM development could be used in another context for our MuSun experiment in Switzerland. It needed the “square” electronics board broken out, and re-designed into a linear array of different SiPM devices. When complete, it attached to a plastic scintillator and solved a long-standing problem we have had for years in detection efficiency in one area of the experiment. David took a lead role in this project, designed the board layout and helped build the new detector, which was used in a very successful 3 month long data taking period this summer. David is practical. When our $12,000 oscilloscope seemed to be broken and the manufacturer wanted $2500 to evaluate it, David asked to look at it first. An hour or so later, we had it back and working – no need for external repairs.

David is an educator. Almost every student and postdoc at CENPA eventually needs to build or repair some custom electronics module, or specialized cables. They all go to David for lessons. He teaches them basic soldering, guides simple board design, and checks up on their work regularly. If a person messes \up, he patiently fixes it and helps them avoid that mistake in the future. He smiles warmly. It’s his pleasure. This is a University after all.

In the attestations that accompany this nomination, you will hear not only from faculty and staff but also from eager students who want to brag about David and tell you how he influenced their education and their experiments. It is a common theme at CENPA and something that makes UW #2 in the U.S. in nuclear physics. The technical staff is gifted, engaged, and essential to our success. David Peterson is truly an outstanding staff member. It would be impossible to replace him if he would seek a (much higher paying) job in the private sector. We are lucky to have a committed employee and we do hope the selection committee is supportive of this award. For these reasons and more, he is most deserving of the recognition of a Distinguished Staff member at the University of Washington.

David Hertzog
Professor of Physics
Co-Spokesperson, Muon g-2

Peter Kammel
Research Professor of Physics
Co-Spokesperson, MuSun

View All Past Recipients