Thompson Rivers University

Curious to the Core

August 15, 2013

Physics major Natascha Hedrich spent the summer at CERN.

If you’re a particle physicist, visiting the Large Hadron Collider is like playing for the Stanley Cup: only a select few get to go, and there are few experiences to match it.

That’s how Natascha Hedrich felt when she heard she had won a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. “I was extremely excited and knew it would be an amazing experience,” says the fourth-year Physics student. She was one of only five Canadian undergraduates selected last spring by the Institute of Particle Physics for the prestigious annual internship: two months of research in Switzerland at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

“Nothing could have prepared me for how truly fantastic my time here has been,” says Hedrich of her summer at CERN. “I’ve met fascinating students from across the world, attended great lectures by leading experts in fields varying from astroparticle and antimatter physics to nuclear and medical physics, and have participated in cutting edge research in the attempt to better understand the Higgs boson.”

The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, built to test theories of particle and high-energy physics. The ATLAS Detector is one of two experiments at the LHC that were involved in the discovery in 2012 of a particle thought to be the Higgs boson. Hedrich is helping analyze ATLAS data, supervised by Andres Tanasijczuk, a postdoctoral fellow from SFU’s High Energy Physics Group.

“I have been working on applying a new statistical technique for reconstructing the mass of the Higgs boson from the particles it decays into, which has been a constant progression of interesting results,” says Hedrich. “The skills and knowledge I have developed and the friendships and experiences I have gained are absolutely irreplaceable.”

Hedrich’s path to CERN was set with a co-op experience at TRIUMF, the national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics where she first learned of the internship opportunity. Then Dr. Dugan O’Neil from SFU’s High Energy Physics Group gave a seminar on the Higgs boson at TRU, where she approached him to be her Canadian supervisor. Hedrich began her research with O’Neil at SFU at the end of April, supported by a concurrent Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, before leaving in late June for Geneva.

After a total of 15 weeks of paid research experience, and outings with fellow interns that included hiking in the Swiss Alps, Hedrich returns to TRU in September for her final semester.

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