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Sophomore Selected for Research Program at CERN

Despite being only a sophomore, physics/mathematics major Zach Wimpee has already secured an upcoming academic research experience that most physicists can only dream about.

Zachary Wimpee Zachary Wimpee Through the ASU Honors Program, Wimpee has been selected for the 2015 University of Michigan Research Semester at CERN program in Geneva, Switzerland, and will receive up to $10,000 for travel and support expenses. He will spend the 2015 fall semester at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), which is home to the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest particle accelerator. 

“In extreme layman’s terms, you have the little particles that make up atoms, and they just smash them together to see what happens,” Wimpee said. “Using what we see from that, we can judge previous scientific hypotheses to see if they are correct. They also expect to see things that we have no explanation for yet.” 

“Since they are smashing all these things together and creating rudimentary particles,” he added, “the idea is that it’s simulating the environment that existed moments after the Big Bang. They are able to study that and learn more about the origins of the universe.” 

Wimpee will join a select group of undergraduate physics, engineering and computer science students from throughout the U.S. to participate in ongoing research involving the newly discovered Higgs Boson and its related physics. 

“The Higgs Boson is basically the foundation of our understanding of particle physics,” he said. “If they had not found it, then we would’ve known that we were doing something drastically wrong mathematically and theoretically. Finding it basically confirmed that we are on the right track. It has a lot to do with gravity and gravitational fields that I don’t fully understand yet, but I’m getting there.” 

“Particle physics is what I’ve thought I wanted to do for a while,” he added. “This fall, I’m going to find out if it is actually what I want to do for sure—and what better way to figure that out than to go to the place that I’ve dreamed of going to, read books on and watched documentaries about.” 

“This semester has been the time for me to branch out and get more involved.”

Zach Wimpee

Along with the other student participants, Wimpee will also be exposed to other world-class research facilities and internationally recognized scientists at CERN—and will be assigned to an active CERN research group engaged in actual ongoing analyses. 

In addition to the Honors Program, Wimpee is a member of the ASU Society of Physics Students and Alpha Chi national honor society. But being only a sophomore, he is just beginning to take advantage of some of the activities and programs available on campus. 

“This semester has been the time for me to branch out and get more involved,” Wimpee said. “I’ve done the required activities for the Honors Program and I’m planning on doing some other service just because I want to. I’m getting the sense that I enjoy putting myself out there and doing these types of things.” 

Scheduled to graduate in 2017, Wimpee is looking forward to a career in particle physics research, which inevitably led to the question of whether he is a fan of the mega-popular TV show “The Big Bang Theory.” 

“It makes physicists look really nerdy, which is not necessarily wrong,” Wimpee joked, “but some of the humor is just stupid. I do like it, though, and I need to get back into it because I almost feel like I have to watch it just to form my own opinion on whether it’s garbage. But some of it is pretty funny.”

  • Tom Nurre

    Tom Nurre

    Tom Nurre is a news and information specialist at Angelo State University. 
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