Benjamin Hardy at The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility
This summer I was incredibly privileged to work at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Va. The accelerator facility, also known as JLab, is one of only 17 nationally funded labs in the United States. I applied through the Research Experience for Undergraduates program through the National Science Foundation. I knew the application process was very competitive, so my friend Zach Times and I packed our bags and set out to Virginia to add a face to my application papers. The staff at JLab was incredible and immediately took me under their wing and gave me an exclusive tour of the facility. I wasn’t sure if that meant I got the position, but two days later I checked where all my important emails go (Microsoft Clutter inbox), and saw they offered me a position. Needless to say, I was stoked.
Since I’m majoring in physics and math at Bowling Green State University, the experimental and theoretical work being done at JLab is very enticing and exciting. The Lab is primarily a nuclear physics lab, but the facility studies a wide array of topics. I’m a senior this year and I plan to pursue a Ph.D in some type of physics. After this summer, I can confidently say I have a lot more clarity in what a career in the physics world looks like. My summer experience will definitely supplement my decision process when I apply to graduate school this fall.
In my 10 weeks in Virginia, my project focused on the Magneto-Optical Kerr Effect. In short, I used lasers to a measure magnetic field by analyzing an induced circular birefringence in the laser light after its reflection off of a magnetized surface — I know that’s a mouthful! During my work, I was able to learn about optics equipment, high-energy electron and ion beams, electron “cooling,” and some other high energy physics topics. My mentor and now friend, Joe Grames, really pushed and encouraged me to think like a scientist, particularly with a systematic approach to experimentation. After this summer, it’s exciting to see how my intellect has matured.
I think my favorite aspect of the whole project was the diversity of people on site and the diversity of projects being studied. I ate food, played soccer and built friendships with people from all over the world congregating at JLab to execute some pretty awesome experiments. In the residence facility, every night deliciously flavored scents hailing from around the globe would waft from the kitchen doors. At lunch break, I played soccer with physicists old enough to be my parents who put me to shame with their finesse. The science was great, but really the people on site made it awesome.
Overall, I’m beyond thankful for all the lessons and experiences this summer has brought me. I’m excited to continue to pursue my passions. And I guess a word of advice for any open ears out there: If you want something career-wise, you might have to drive mentally, emotionally and even physically for many hours to make it happen.