Dr. Petra Van Mulders

Post-doctoral researcher of the FWO-Vlaanderen at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel

I am a postdoctoral researcher and part-time (10%) professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. I decided to pursue my curiosity in particle physics after my first visit to CERN at the age of 16. After completing my master thesis in 2006, I was awarded a PhD fellowship to develop a new technique for the calibration of the jet energies using top quarks at the LHC. Less than four years later, I graduated and thereafter initiated the development of an innovating search strategy for a sequential fourth generation of quarks. Under my leadership this project resulted in 2012 in the world-best exclusion limits on the existence of these quarks. Simultaneously, I committed myself to the development of new b-jet identification techniques important to study the properties of the recently discovered Higgs particle. After developing various improvements and novel techniques, in 2014 I was selected to become convener of the vertexing and heavy-flavour jet identification group in the CMS collaboration coordinating the research of about 80 people worldwide on this topic. Since 2013, I am also leading the participation of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the SoLid experiment, a new type of neutrino experiment at very short baseline located at the BR2 reactor at SCK-CEN in Mol (Belgium). I have been supervisor or promotor of in total 5 PhD and 4 master theses.

Petra Van Mulders

December 2017: paper on heavy-flavour jet identification submitted to JINST! Link


  • 2015-2018: Postdoctoral fellowship from FWO Vlaanderen (Research Foundation - Flanders)
  • since 2014: 10% professor (research) at Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • 2012-2018: Postdoctoral fellowship from FWO Vlaanderen (Research Foundation - Flanders)
  • 2011-2012: Postdoctoral fellow on a VUB research project funded by FWO Vlaanderen (Research Foundation - Flanders)
  • 2010: Maternity leave (3 months)
  • 2006-2010: PhD scholarship for 4 years funded by a Strategic Basic Research grant from IWT-Vlaanderen, joint PhD between University of Antwerp and VUB
  • 2002-2006: Bachelor & Masters in Physics (cum laude) at VUB

Career highlights

  • 2018: ERC Starting Grant application, "The ultimate measurement of the top quark mass at the LHC", review in progress
  • 2016: Principle investigator of a project (Research Foundation - Flanders) running between 2017 and 2020 (685kEur). Joint project with the universities of Ghent and Antwerp and the SCK•CEN insitute.
  • 2016: Leader of the background group in the SoLid experiment
  • 2015: ERC Starting Grant application, "New approach for the track reconstruction and its impact on b-jet identification towards the study of the Higgs field with the CMS detector at the High-Luminosity Large Hadron Collider", invited for the interview (20% best), finally not funded
  • 2015: Ranked first among all applications for physics in Flanders for a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship from FWO Vlaanderen (Research Foundation - Flanders)
  • 2014: Co-principle investigator of funding project (Research Foundation - Flanders) running between 2015 and 2018 (755kEur). Joint project with the university of Antwerp and the SCK•CEN insitute.
  • 2014: Awarded 10% professorship at Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • 2014: Leader of the heavy-flavour jet identification group in the CMS Collaboration at CERN (L2 convener)
  • since 2014: Member of several master and PhD thesis juries for analyses performed with the CMS and IceCube experiments, member or chairperson of several analysis review committees (internal peer review committee of a CMS publication or preliminary result)
  • 2013: Leading the participation of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the SoLid experiment, member of the SoLid Institution Board
  • 2013: One of the 3 finalists for the annual Young Scientist Oral Contest of the Belgian Physics Society
  • 2012: Ranked first among all applications for physics in Flanders for a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship from FWO Vlaanderen (Research Foundation Flanders)
  • since 2011: Organizer of scientific meetings (including the SoLid collaboration meeting (2x), the poster session for the CMS Collaboration meeting in Brussels (2011), and meetings in the context of leading groups in CMS or SoLid)
  • 2006: Awarded a 4-year Strategic Basic Research grant from IWTVlaanderen
  • 2006: Awarded 3 months prescholarship funding

Research activities in the SoLid Collaboration

  • Responsible for all background related studies, both for SM1 and the full-scale detector (since 2016)
  • Construction and commissioning of the full-scale SoLid experiment (since 2016)
  • Construction, installation and commissioning of the first submodule (SM1) as well as light yield attenuation studies (2014-2015)
  • Operation of and data analysis using the 32-channel prototype (NEMENIX), in particular muon studies (2013-2014)

Research activities in the CMS Collaboration

Selection of conference talks

Supervised dissertations (PhD/master)

Publications (INSPIRE HEP)

  • Link to all my publications
  • The CMS collaboration contains over 2000 authors signing all publications. The motivation for this approach is the collaboration-wide effort which is required to conduct the research with the CMS experiment, e.g. from technicians and engineers building the detector, to researchers developing adequate triggers and reconstruction algorithms, to the development of new analysis techniques and finally to obtain the physics result to be published. Over the last years, I was mainly involved in the identification of b-quark jets in the proton collisions collected by the CMS experiment. Since I started working on b-quark jet identification, the CMS collaboration published over 500 papers of which 30% rely on the identification of b-quark jets. This illustrates the importance of my leadership in successfully developing and improving these identification techniques. It is impossible to quantify numerically my contribution to these papers, but it is fair to say that most analyses on top quark and Higgs boson physics and even some of the searches for supersymmetry would not have been possible without b-jet identification.
  • Link to my CMS publications
  • Link to my SoLid publications

Outreach and communication (highlights)

  • In May 2016, I spoke about curiosity-driven research at the first VUB conference (i.e. one of the 10 selected key-note plenary speakers to represent the university), with about 600 attendees
  • In January 2016, I organized an interactive workshop (about 80 people) for kids aged between 8 and 12 years at Technopolis, Mechelen (Belgium)
  • In October 2015, I spoke for about 200 art students (18 years old), Kunsthumaniora Hasselt (Belgium)
  • Jury member of CanSat Belgium 2015-2017
  • In June 2014, the VUB released a press announcement on my selection as convener of the heavy-flavour jet identification group in the CMS collaboration at CERN. Following this announcement, I was invited for over 10 interviews in the written press as well as 7 radio interviews and 2 television interviews.
  • On October 8, the Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was awarded to Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider". This event has been broadly celebrated in the physics community in Belgium and the media reported in detail on this topic given the nationality of F. Englert. On that occasion, I gave an interview for Terzake on Canvas to explain how the Higgs particle provides mass to the fundamental particles. In 2014 this reportage was awarded by the VRT (national broadcasting channel comparable to BBC in the UK) with the "diversity prize" in the category "Actuality".
  • I was finalist of the Young Scientist Contest at the General Scientific Meeting 2013 of the Belgian Physics Society (prize for the best oral presentation)
  • Since 2007 I contribute directly and indirectly to the outreach program of the VUB, e.g. by participating to the Open Days organized for potentially new students, as well as to the Master Classes of Particle Physics organized for students aged between 16 and 18, and doing outreach presentations for up to 200 persons.

    Dr. Petra Van Mulders • Vrije Universiteit Brussel • Pleinlaan 2 • 1050 Brussel • +32 498 591065 • pvmulder@vub.ac.be

Last updated 5 December 2016