A Summer of Nuclear Research ConCERN

Congrats, fellow Anteaters! You have (almost) made it through spring quarter. Maybe for your first time, maybe for your last. For at least one soon-to-be second year, this summer means the opportunity of a lifetime.

This July, physics major Matthew Kelly will join professor Whiteson, a particle physicist at UCI, near Geneva on the Swiss side of the CERN complex to do scientific research.

You may know CERN (formally The European Organization of Nuclear Research) for its dramatic appearance in Dan Brown’s “Angel’s and Demons,” and we will forever be in its debt for creating the World Wide Web in the early ’90s. Now the people working there are focused on more fundamental matters.

The center has made headlines recently as home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is the largest and highest energy atom smasher in the world. Scientists there, including Professor Whiteson, hope that they will be able to break up protons by crashing them into each other at incredibly high speeds to prove the existence of a currently theoretical yet fundamental particle: The Higgs boson. This particle is such a big deal that they say finding it would explain the origin of mass in the universe.

It takes a lot of space and energy to make the particles collide fast enough to do this. The LHC is about 17 miles in circumference, is buried about 570 feet deep and is so large that the complex lies under both Switzerland and France.

Matthew isn’t even 19 yet, but he’ll be among 2000 representatives from 540 universities worldwide doing scientific research on site at CERN.

He’d never previously programmed in any language and had to learn everything on his own when the professor made him part of the team earlier this year.

Of the experience he says, “Opportunity doesn’t arise from the skills you currently have, but the work you’re willing to put in to learning something new.” Professor Whiteson wants Mathew to put schoolwork first, but he works on his programs for hours each week and reports his progress via Skype every Sunday at midnight.

It won’t be all work in Europe, though. During off time, he plans to be a normal tourist and would love more than anything to visit Paris.

Quoting physics legend Richard Feynman, Matthew says, “I was born not knowing and have only had a little time to change that here and there.” Matthew is definitely getting an early start on that. While he gets ready to lend his brain to the discovery of unknown particles that make up our universe, spend some time to consider what you’ll be doing this summer.