Scientists from around the world travel to the famous CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, to probe the fundamental structure of the universe using the largest and most powerful particle accelerator on earth—the Large Hadron Collider. Last summer, they were joined by an Adelphi senior, Muhammad Aziz, a physics major who spent six weeks as part of a longer 10-week internship with the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory/Duke University Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.
Scientists from around the world travel to the famous CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, to probe the fundamental structure of the universe using the largest and most powerful particle accelerator on earth—the Large Hadron Collider.
Last summer, they were joined by an Adelphi senior, Muhammad Aziz, a physics major who spent six weeks as part of a longer 10-week internship with the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory/Duke University Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. The program included four weeks on Duke’s campus in Durham, North Carolina.
Aziz, who came to the United States from Pakistan to attend college, says his experiences at Adelphi helped prepare him for his elite internship. A student in the University’s joint four-year/two-year degree program in engineering with Columbia University, he graduated from Adelphi in 2018. He is currently at Columbia studying for a second bachelor’s degree, in electrical engineering, and expects to receive that degree in 2020 before moving on to a Ph.D. program.
During his years at Adelphi, Aziz looked for and found many opportunities to dive deeper into his field of study. “Professors in the physics department are always willing to provide opportunities for students to take independent studies and elective classes tailored to their professional goals and interests,” he says.
Aziz studied advanced statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics and particle physics and spent two years working in a research lab with Sean Bentley, Ph.D., associate professor of physics. The advanced classes and research experience made Aziz a strong candidate for major research internships like the one at CERN, Dr. Bentley says.
Close working relationships with professors in the program helped, too. “My professors knew me well enough to give me very good recommendation letters, which helped me get this opportunity,” Aziz says.
When thinking about internships, Aziz wanted to find one that would give him research experience in high energy physics. He certainly found that at CERN, where, as one of four interns in the program, he compared phenomena predicted by the standard model of particle physics with data gleaned from experiments at the Large Hadron Collider. Like others who have conducted research at CERN, he found that the standard model—which explains how fundamental particles interact, governed by four fundamental forces—accurately predicts experimental results.
“This REU was a great opportunity for me to not only get research experience related to experimental particle physics, but was also a platform to make connections with some of the professors at Duke,” Aziz says. “The CERN summer lectures were a platform where I was able to explore the depths of this field and ask questions of some of the great physicists working at CERN.”
Without his experience working in Dr. Bentley’s research lab, Aziz says he may have missed this opportunity. “Most of the REUs require some prior research experience, which I had from working with Professor Bentley,” he says. “My résumé was also strengthened by the fact that I had presented at a couple of research conferences.”
Such opportunities are part of the plan for Adelphi students, according to Dr. Bentley. “Ideally, our students start by doing research during their first summers at Adelphi and throughout academic years and, in later summers, get opportunities like these at large institutions across the country and around the world,” he says. “These additional research experiences give the students a broader perspective and make them stronger candidates for graduate programs and job opportunities.”
Looking to the Future
“Internships allow you to test out a new career, work on advanced topics and develop a network—an international one, in Muhammad’s case,” says Associate Professor Matthew Wright, Ph.D., chair of Adelphi’s physics department. For Aziz, the CERN internship offered all these benefits.
Aziz believes his internship experience at CERN will have lasting value. “Research experience is very important when applying to Ph.D. programs, and it also helps in deciding what type of research you want to do when you go to grad school,” he says.
While Aziz hasn’t yet decided which type of research he ultimately wants to pursue with a doctorate, his experience at Adelphi and at CERN will certainly inform his decision, he says.
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