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2 of 12 CERN undergrads will come from William & Mary this year

  • Summer at CERN
    Summer at CERN
    Physics students Will Bergan ’15 and Rachel Hyneman ’15 were selected to participate in a summer program at CERN, site of the discovery of the Higgs boson. Only 12 U.S. undergrads are selected for the research experience.
    Photo by Joseph McClain

Two William & Mary undergraduates will spend the summer conducting research at the laboratories of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research near Geneva, Switzerland.

Will Bergan ’15 and Rachel Hyneman ’15 were selected to participate in the summer program at CERN, site of the discovery of the Higgs boson and one of the world’s leading centers of physics research. They will join a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program conducted at CERN by faculty from the University of Michigan. Funded by the National Science Foundation, REU programs give U.S. college and university students the opportunity to engage in research at institutions other than their own schools.

 Assistant Professor of Physics Wouter Deconinck, who conducts William & Mary’s own summer REU program in physics, noted that CERN only accepts a limited number of undergraduates from nations who are not full member states of the consortium. He added that quota for the U.S. is 12.

“It is exceptional that William & Mary was successful in placing not one—but two—students into the CERN REU,” Deconinck said. “It is great to see that the W&M Physics Department is being recognized as having a top undergraduate program that prepares students, through extensive pre-senior research opportunities, for these high-profile research positions.”

Bergan and Hyneman aren’t the first William & Mary physics students chosen for the highly selective experience. Christine McLean ’12, now a graduate student at U.C. Davis, participated in the REU in summer of 2011. Deconinck noted that the Department of Physics has an excellent track record in placing students at internships and other research experiences through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and at other universities in the U.S. and abroad. The CERN REU, though, remains near the top of the list and receives a large number of applicants.

“I had heard some of the upperclassmen talking about places they had applied in previous years,” Bergan said. “Then I saw it on the web somewhere. So I decided to try it out. I thought my chances were not very high; I had heard that it was a difficult program to get into.”

Bergan and Hyneman will leave for CERN on June 6. They will spend eight weeks working with some of the world’s foremost scientists, using the tools of high-energy physics to probe some of the world’s most compelling questions. Both of the William & Mary physics majors have previous experience working at large physics labs in the U.S. Bergan completed an REU-like summer experience at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab near Batavia, Ill. while Hyneman was working on an experiment at the DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Lab in California when she got the e-mail notifying her of her acceptance into the CERN REU.

“We were about to leave for our lunch break, so I check my phone and look at my emails, then I read that I had been accepted,” Hyneman recalled. “I couldn’t really believe it. I just lit up and smiled, and probably let out a little bit of a screech and showed my phone to someone.”

The CERN REU covers airfare to and from Switzerland, a per diem of $100 Swiss francs, to cover housing at the CERN hostel and food. There’s also a $2,500 stipend. Neither Hyneman nor Bergan have received a research assignment for their time at CERN. Hyneman has been in touch with other CERN-bound students through a Facebook group; she said that past work assignments have been connected with the ATLAS experiment.

Bergan, of Springfield, Va., is a runner and enjoys playing competitive bridge. Hyneman, of Gilbert, Ariz., plays bass with a number of musical ensembles at William & Mary, including the jazz combo Mary and the Williams. Both plan to go to graduate school after William & Mary and to seek out careers in high-energy physics.