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Friday, 28 February 2014 13:34

Craig seniors participate in UW astrophysics program

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MESSENGER -- Three Craig High School students recently had a big opportunity to get a jump start on their scientific careers by helping researchers study a tiny particle.

Seniors Matthew Plewa, Jacques Boudreau and Nolan Moran recently participated in an internship program at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center, located at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As part of the program, they worked with researchers and other interns to use the center’s IceCube technology to search the universe for neutrinos, which are subatomic particles that can develop from gamma ray bursts, black holes, neutron stars and exploding stars.

"Our goal is to map the neutrinos in the universe," Moran said. "They’re really high energy, and they really don’t have mass and they don’t have their own charge, so they can travel through planets and everything without interacting."

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Plewa said about a billion neutrinos go through the human finger at one time.

"What’s really interesting about the neutrinos that they’re detecting is that they’re generated at such high energy that they’re being generated by something much larger than our galaxy," Plewa said. "They think some of them are coming from black holes, but some of them are being generated at such a high velocity that they’re being generated by something even more powerful than what a black hole would be."

Boudreau said he enjoyed working with the staff and the other interns at the center and having the opportunity to conduct research on the neutrinos.

"It was cool meeting people who had careers and were very important figures in the physics community," Boudreau said. "It was nice to meet them and work with talented people like that. Physics has always interested me, so it was cool meeting some people in Madison who were very influential in new physics being discovered. It was an experience I really enjoyed. I learned quite a bit from it."

Plewa said he enjoyed working on group projects with the other students and developing his own research.

"When we just started, we attended lectures, so different groups came in and they did presentations on what their projects were and then we got to break down into smaller groups and they actually had us work on projects," Plewa said. "I ended up going off on my own, and I developed a program that would analyze data that we were getting and outputting data that we were looking at and I really enjoyed contributing to something that researchers could use and other people in the scientific community could use. So, it kind of makes it feel like you’ve done something of significance."

Moran said participating in the internship helped him learn about the career opportunities that are available with physics.

"My whole life I kind of wanted to go into the medical field, and I’ve always been set on that," Moran said. "Seeing other people that have jobs in physics, it’s kind of changed my view a little bit. I’ve kind of had to think of what I wanted to do and possibly go into physics instead of medicine. It was a great experience."

The internship program is held on Thursday afternoons. The students have the option to participate for one semester or two semesters. Moran and Boudreau participated in the program during the fall semester, and Plewa decided to participate during both semesters.

The students learned about the program through their physics teacher, Jeff Leider.

"Without (Leider), none of this would’ve been possible," Moran said.

In order to attend, the students had to submit a letter explaining why they wanted to participate in the internship program. Moran said after graduation, he plans to attend UW-Madison to study life science. Boudreau said he plans to participate in UW-Madison’s general engineering program. Boudreau said being involved with the internship program gave him a better idea of what he wants to accomplish in the future.

"I’ve always been very interested in physics, so it gave me a good look at what people who have majored in physics could do as a career and what’s being done in the physics world," Boudreau said. "So, it gave me an in-depth look at what a possible future could hold."

Plewa said he plans to major in aerospace engineering and minor in astrophysics at Iowa State. He said his second-grade teacher helped him become interested in science.

"Before that, I really didn’t care about school," Plewa said. "I didn’t really care about doing anything with school, but she kind of pointed me toward science and the hands-on aspect of it, and she’s really the reason why I’m going into aerospace engineering, just because she gave me the nudge that I needed."

Leider said participating in the internship program will help the students prepare for college, as well as their careers.

"When you’re in high school, everything is related to high school, and (the internship program) is so much a taste of college," Leider said. "You ask any of the students right now, and they’re ready for college. It makes things all real. It’s just not all theory anymore."

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