Meet Angelika Drees
It takes many hands and minds to run the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) and its four detectors. On the team of more than 1,000 scientists, engineers, and support staff , each person brings a unique combination of skills and insight to advance the RHIC program, with many playing multiple roles. Angelika Drees is one such person. She’s had a hand in both building and running the machine, and has been involved in the two main research missions at RHIC — exploring matter as it existed in the early universe and searching for the source of proton spin. A young mother, she also serves as a role model to high school girls who visit the Lab each year.
This isn’t surprising considering Drees wanted to be an astronaut as a teenager, but was told there were no women in that field. Not to be deterred, she reasoned that by becoming a scientist, she could eventually accompany astronauts on their missions. Her growing interest in astronomy and the origins of the universe — and a waning desire for space travel — eventually led her to physics.
While majoring in high-energy physics at the University of Wuppertal in her native Germany, she volunteered as a counselor for disadvantaged children at a nearby horse farm, picking up skills as a blacksmith. Supporting herself as a blacksmith, she earned a master’s degree from Wuppertal in 1992.
Then she moved from bending metal horseshoes to complex physics experiments and, eventually, to bending beams of subatomic particles in colliders. Participating in studies on how factors such as nearby electric trains and tides aff ected the energy and motion of beams at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, Drees earned her Ph.D. in 1997, and then came to Brookhaven to work on RHIC.
She now divides her time between running the accelerator and working on the experiments. “I love having the opportunity to work on both experiments and accelerator problems,” she says.