A nuclear reaction illuminates the inside of a machine. Senior physics major, Lara O’Connor, had an exciting summer – she worked on the NOVA experiment and attended the Nuclear Physics Summer School. After these experiences, O’Connor is more prepared, and excited, to pursue graduate studies in Physics.

Working alongside current CSU graduate student Connor Johnson in the research group of Professor Norm Buchanan, O’Connor assisted with calibrating a detector in the NOVA experiment, an experiment attempting to better understand the energy of the ever-elusive neutrinos.  O’Connor helped with the coding that ensures the many planes of the detector were working properly.

Before this experience, O’Connor said she “did not like programming. But, much like once you actually use the physics, you understand why math is important, now I understand why programming is so important in physics. And, now, I’m a much more confident coder.”

Getting to do work on actual research also helped O’Connor cement her interest in grad school. She says she benefited from “getting to do research and see the time commitment and expectations behind it.”

At the Nuclear Physics Summer school at UC Davis, O’Connor spent an intensive 6 days in labs and lectures from prominent scientists in the field and industry partners at one of the few schools focused on nuclear physics. In addition to exposing O’Connor to a field of physics she might not have considered, she was able to meet a variety of graduate and undergraduate students from around the world. O’Connor says it was great to “talk to other people about their school programs and the classes they take and their work on research. It was cool to make those connections and learn about, for example, their tricks for the GRE or hear about what they would do differently.”

Another highlight was getting to see the exposed core of a nuclear reactor and the Cherenkov radiation, that is, the glow that happens when the particle is going faster than the speed of light in a particular medium.

At CSU this upcoming year, O’Connor will lead the undergraduate group Women in Physics. O’Connor hopes to better incorporate younger undergrads into the physics major, and she looks forward to “sharing physics with other people.”

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Portrait of Thomas Campbell, alumnus.