Part Physicist, Part Spiderman: Local Kid to Intern at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland

Press release from Humboldt State University:

Duncan Shaw got the email on Christmas Day: The HSU Physics & Astronomy major’s application to intern at the world’s largest research center had been accepted, and this summer, he’s going to Geneva, Switzerland to work at CERN.

The French acronym for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN is most famous for its 17-mile-circumference Large Hadron Collider, which smashes particles together at close to the speed of light.

About 2,500 scientists from almost 200 countries collaborate to study the results of those collisions, in the pursuit of answers about particle physics – or high energy physics – dark matter, and what makes up our universe.

Shaw’s path to the CERN came via Physics & Astronomy Professor C.D. Hoyle’s Gravity Lab, where the search for the fundamental makeup of the universe is also taking place, albeit on a smaller scale. Originally from Junction City in Trinity County, Shaw knew he wanted to work in applied mathematics as a high school student. His “particle physics moment” came at a high school science bowl, and now he’s in his senior year at HSU, where’s he’s taken nearly every class in both paths of the Physics & Astronomy major, building computers, experimenting with gravity, and studying other phenomena.

For the last year Shaw has joined other students In Hoyle’s Gravity Lab, including Ian Guerrero, who interned with CERN last summer. The internships are part of a CSU program started by CSU Fresno Professor Yongsheng Gao to get students involved in the ATLAS program, one of the groups that studies particle collisions at CERN. Two other HSU students have visited CERN through other programs.

During his internship, Guerrero wrote computer software that allowed detectors in the Large Hadron Collider to be reset during the experiments, helping researchers collect valuable data that was previously lost during the calibrations. Now Guerrero is finishing up his last semester at Humboldt and waiting to hear from his PhD applications.

Shaw expects to be doing similar work at CERN, writing programs that help analyze the billions of reactions that happen when you smash particles together at near light speed.

“Theoretical physics – that’s a respectable field,” he says. But he’s all about experimentation and taking action. He loves the uncertainty of smashing things together. “Let’s just do it and see what happens.”

Theory and experimentation are, of course, related. The purpose of CERN is to test for results that support or question well-established theories about the universe. The CERN internship is directly related to the work that both Guerrero and Shaw want to do in their careers. Guerrero wants to further his studies in gravity and high energy physics. Shaw wants to make sci-fi concepts, like warp drives, a reality.

“The study of high energy physics, or particle physics, is the next frontier,” Shaw says. “First there was relativity, then quantum physics. High energy physics seeks to understand what the universe is made of on the most basic level.”

Hoyle is hoping the CSU program becomes a pipeline for HSU’s Physics & Astronomy majors to visit and intern at CERN. “Having Duncan and Ian intern at CERN shows that HSU students can succeed in the program,” he says.

Guerrero’s biggest takeaway was the sense of community at CERN. “It’s the world’s top research center, but everyone there is just really passionate and hardworking. They’re not all geniuses,” he says. “That was my favorite thing – the science is obviously great, but the community was my favorite part.”

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15 comments

  • The Hermit of Grizzly Mountain

    Congratulations, Duncan Shaw! This is awesome for many reasons. And good luck with your PhD

  • Good for you sweetheart. You make Humboldt proud. Your an inspiration to young people all over the world. Good Luck.

  • Honeydew Bridge Chump

    He should do a Mandela Effect and rewrite weed out of history.

  • You go DUNCAN!!!it’s beautiful there.CONGRADULATIONS excellent work. I wish you all the happiness

  • The hadron collider opened a pin prick into a parallel universe. Dark matter has been released. Sooner or later, the pin prick will burst and the dark matter will consume our planet, solar system and a chunk of our universe. “Lets just do it and see what happens” is a very irresponsible perspective in science. Do your part for society Duncan. Upload a Stuxnet worm, crash the collider, save mankind, and be a true superhero…. Vermes-Man!

  • Take some sharp drill bits with you, so you can drill more holes in their cheese

  • Outstanding!

  • That is somewhat of a cavalier attitude , but comes with youth. He will make a good fit for the journey. Always remember that there are things we don’t understand, and these things will be made to our understanding in time. So go ahead and keep opening those doors for all these things must come before the end.simple mathematical calculation will reveal what juorny we are taking thru subatomic particles and now surpassing quantum computers to d wave super conductors. Hear we come cosmos.

  • Experiment with gravity? I do that all the time.

  • Congratulations Mr. Duncan Shaw! You already think in terms of Particle and Theoretical physics with a goal of Astrophysics in mind. Enjoy Mr. Shaw, enjoy yourself this summer at CERN. You’re already moving at warp speed… keep going!

  • David Conquistador Taylor

    The studied particles don’t actually collide. They only come within close proximity. Just so you know.

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