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From Rose-Hulman to CERN

October 20, 2011

Physics & Optics Student Studies at World's Particle Supercollider

CERN Kaku   
 From Left: Student Andrew Bower, physicist
Michio Kaku, astronomer Richard Ditteon.

Top world scientists are still trying to figure out how the CERN supercollider managed to document neutrinos, tiny ethereal particles, traveling faster than the speed of light. News of the discovery at Europe's CERN supercollider shocked the science world, since a faster-than-light particle would dispute Albert Einstein's special theory of relativity. "We would have to throw out all the Physics textbooks," said Physics & Optical Engineering professor Azad Siahmakoun.

According to Siahmakoun, the Physics faculty had discussed CERN's faster-than-light results over dinner with guest lecturer and Nobel Laureate in Physics Michio Kaku.

But when news of the discovery came out, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology student Andrew Bower was not surprised. The Rose-Hulman senior, a Physics and Optical Engineering student, had spent the summer at CERN -- one of a select few American college students to participate in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the premier particle-physics laboratory.

This same famed Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located near Geneva, Switzerland, draws researchers from all over the world.

"It's a big collaboration of physicists working at the frontier of physics," Bower explains.  He was one of the few undergraduate students participating in the University of Michigan's research project. 

On this project, Bower joined students and scientists in conducting experiments and collecting data in the quest to find the elusive Higgs Boson particle, the theoretical particle that is believed to give all matter in the universe mass.   He says that the REU student scientists analyze the large amounts of data generated, each doing his or her part to forward the research.

Working on the project was a dream come true for Bower, who has been fascinated with the supercollider since first reading about it as a child.

"I was just so excited the whole time.  I just had this big smile on my face," he said.

However, 12 weeks at the world's largest atom smasher did more than expand Bower's scientific horizons.  He says that the program also provided a valuable cultural experience.  Though his research group consisted mainly of graduate students from the University of Milan, Bower says he enjoyed connecting with science-minded people from all over the world. 

"What surprised me was the way the theorists worked with the experimentalists," Bower recalls. "The LHC itself is the perfect example.  When they planned it, people said it couldn't be done . . . and now they're doing it."