When you find yourself involved in research that has sparked the attention of legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, you know you’ve moved into a pretty heady scientific realm.
Natascha Hedrich has done just that.
The fourth-year Thompson Rivers university student spent the summer in Switzerland working with scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN – the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire), home of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 27-kilometre long ring of science that, among other things, is being used to study the Higgs Boson.
The media has called the Higgs the God particle but, for scientists and students like Hedrich, it is simply the particle that might explain why the world exists.
It is also the subject that led to the awarding of the Nobel Prize this year to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for their work identifying it.
In a talk she called Higgs, LHC and the End of the World – A Summer at CERN, Hedrich spoke of her experiences.
They included giving workshops and a lecture to others – the institute has a staff of 2,400, up to 10,000 scientists researching there at any given time and, for the summer-student program, about 300 burgeoning scientists.
Hedrich also talked of pursuing her own area of research — trying to replicate the Higgs particle from what remains when one of them decays.
Essentially, she told her audience, “we want to get back to the Big Bang.”
Hedrich told KTW her love of physics started when she was a student at Haldane elementary and it grew while she was at Chase secondary.
It eventually bested her other two career considerations in her teenaged years — chiropracty and marine biology.
It’s not Hedrich’s first foray into research labs outside the TRU campus.
She had a co-op opportunity at TRIUMF, the Vancouver-based national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics.
While there, Hedrich attended a lecture on the Higgs particle by Dugan O’Neil of SFU.
She met with him, discussed her own aspirations and he agreed to be her research supervisor.
Hedrich received a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council undergraduate research award.
The council and the Toronto-based Institute for Particle Physics assisted her in being one of five Canadian students chosen for the summer program.
Hedrich has also spent a summer working in Germany with scientists, researching and designing new sensors for wind energy.
Her project dealt with precise measurements of wind speed and direction and how they can be used to generate energy from wind turbines.
Hedrich is now busy with classes at TRU.
With applications to universities in Europe, where she wants to pursue post-graduate degrees in quantum physics, she has until the end of the year to get the paperwork in and hopes to hear back in March from some of them with acceptance letters.