PSD Spotlight: Dave Schmitz

September 21, 2021

Dave Schmitz
Dave Schmitz

PSD’s September spotlight is Dave Schmitz, Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and the Enrico Fermi Institute and newly appointed Deputy Dean of Diversity and Inclusion for the PSD. Dave has been with the University of Chicago since September 2012.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Topeka, Kansas. People often ask if I lived on a farm, and I say, “No, but there was a huge corn field across the street.” They also want to know if it was flat, and I say, “Not as flat as Illinois!”

I studied at the University of Kansas, where I got my first taste of research in particle physics, before moving to Columbia University for graduate school. Following the research, which was at Fermilab, I moved to Chicago in 2003, and have been here ever since, so Chicago has definitely become home.

What do you enjoy about being a part of the PSD community?

I am continually awed by the breadth of exciting scientific work being done in the PSD. The people, the discoveries, the history, it's all very inspiring. My work at Fermilab, which is a laboratory focused mostly on particle physics research, was naturally very exciting, and I still conduct most of my research there, but being here in the PSD I am continually reminded how my own work is one part of an expansive, multi-disciplinary pursuit of new knowledge about our world and universe.

Tell us a bit about you.

I live in Hyde Park with my wife and our two kids, 5 and 7, and our feisty cat, Kitty. I love beginning most days by walking or riding bikes with my kids to their school on the way to my own office, and all along beautiful tree-lined streets and past multiple bookstores along the route to distract me!

I enjoy all variety of outdoor activities and sports on land and water. I got back into running during the pandemic, and so you might find me running along the lakefront in the evening or on the weekends. I also enjoy playing guitar, even if it is embarrassing how little I’ve improved after a few decades of trying – but it does make for my favorite classroom demonstration when we’re learning about standing waves in introductory physics!

Who inspires you?

The students here at U of C – both in the College and graduate students – they’re amazing. Whether teaching introductory physics, collaborating with students on research, or working alongside them to try to make this the best place it can be for all to succeed, I am constantly saying to myself, “There’s no way I was that smart/dedicated/motivated at that point in my own studies or career!”

What is the most interesting thing that you are working on right now?

My research is in experimental neutrino physics. At Fermilab, in the Chicago suburbs, the proton accelerator can be used to create intense beams of neutrinos that we aim at detectors anywhere from 100 meters to over 1,000 kilometers away, in a different state. The difference is we need to build a much bigger detector. We are just starting construction on a new experiment called DUNE that will be located in a cavern nearly a mile underground in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The detector will be the size of a basketball arena, yet capable of generating high-resolution images of individual interacting neutrinos coming from Fermilab or even from an exploding star somewhere in the Milky Way galaxy.

Right now, we are operating several experiments at Fermilab (so close to the source) that are based on the same concepts but at only 1% the size, where we are learning a great deal about the technology and about neutrinos.

As of July, you are our new deputy dean for diversity and inclusion. What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?

I am excited and humbled to be starting in my new role as deputy dean. Throughout the PSD we aim to advance the frontiers of scientific knowledge through pioneering research while providing a world-class education and training to future generations of scientists and scholars, and I believe a firm commitment to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion is fundamental to our success.

I believe our goal must be to ensure an environment where all members of the PSD – students, researchers, instructors, faculty, and staff – feel comfortable being exactly who they are and are supported to be their best possible selves and do their best possible work.  

The challenge lies in the realization that to create such an environment for all members of our community and to continue to attract the best possible talent into every role throughout the Division cannot be achieved passively but requires deliberate action and continuous attention from all of us. I look forward to partnering with people throughout the Division to do just that.

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