SpaceLogo Sciences Participating with Arts & Culture in Education

By Patrick Shaw August 31, 2023

Inquisitive Intersections

This reflection is part of my certificate capstone project in High Energy Particle Physics. My reflection explores my cegep experience and life, as well as the intersectionality of knowledge in varying fields. 

Never did I imagine that I, an aspiring medical doctor, would find myself enthralled in a seemingly esoteric field of physics. Yet, here I am, standing on the threshold of graduation from Dawson, having spent two intense years as a member of the High Energy Particle Physics team. My journey has taken me deep into the mysteries of the field, crafting two innovative research proposals for the Beam Line for Schools competition at CERN, working on an alpha particle detector, a cloud chamber, and so much more!

I first set foot at Dawson, an overconfident and naïve soul eager to take on the world. In the second week of school, we had the activity buffet where I had the opportunity to discover the vast array of possibilities afforded to me at the college. Eager to explore, I enthusiastically filled my schedule to the brim - the McGill Physics Olympiad Program (MPOP), Neuroscience Research Group, Model United Nations team, and High Energy Particle Physics to name a few. As time passed, some pursuits reached their natural conclusion, others I had to forego due to burgeoning commitments. Yet, despite its challenges, I clung to Particle Physics, driven by a growing fascination and an insatiable curiosity.

My journey to Particle Physics began with a short presentation from Dr. Toharia. From then on, it transformed into an exploration of unprecedented depth. We started with lectures on the Standard Model of Particle Physics getting introduced to quarks, leptons, and bosons. Soon, we were delving beyond the standard model, understanding what particle physics research entailed, and the expectations from us. Our major project was to propose an experiment for the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland - the world's largest particle collider, a 27 km ring where particles collide at nearly the speed of light, helping unravel the fundamental mysteries of our universe.

In our first year, we proposed an experiment to study the effects of cosmic rays (muons) on Solid State Drives (SSDs), specifically looking at data corruption from bit flips. Our aim was to extrapolate this understanding to a larger scale, especially considering the potential effects on servers in the event of an impending solar maximum in 2025, which would result in a massive influx of muons. Though it may sound technical, we, Cégep science students, were the ones to devise the experiment having developed all the knowledge and skills in a relatively short time frame. Our hard work paid off when our paper was shortlisted in the top 25 of the international competition! This remarkable achievement was just the beginning of a journey that would expand our horizons even further in the second year.

Inspired by a NASA workshop at Dawson in our second year, we focused our research on studying the radiolytic effects of cosmic rays on potential life-forming building blocks on Europa. The idea being that it could help shed light on the apparent scarcity of life in the universe by revealing its hostile nature. Drawing from our organic chemistry and biology classes, we proposed FTIR analysis of amino acids after irradiation. We witnessed how our knowledge found applications in seemingly unrelated fields, thus highlighting the profound interconnectedness within science. While the results of our paper in the competition are still pending, I am immensely proud of our team's effort and the paper we rendered. This multifaceted project reinforced not only the interconnectedness within science, but also pointed to the potential connections to be found in less likely places.

Throughout my time in Cégep, the interconnection between disciplines was continually reinforced. The knowledge from my extracurriculars seemed to always apply to my courses and vice versa. While this might be a prime example of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, I firmly believe that these insights provide more thorough understandings of the topics at hand. Perhaps the most unexpected connection came from my Buddhist Ethics course. Indra’s net, an idea that emphasizes the interconnectedness and interdependence throughout the universe, provides an intuitive framework to appreciate the abstract notions of quantum field theory. Conversely, quantum field theory helped elucidate philosophical ideas of causal connection and anattā (non-self). This unexpected intersection between science and philosophy further emphasizes the breadth of my learnings and their collective relevance as I prepare to embark on future journeys.

As I prepare to delve into Anatomy and Cell Biology at McGill, this deeper understanding of physics and the fundamental building blocks of our world is not lost. It still provides me with a new lens and a more wholistic approach to future problems.

Image generated by Adobe Firefly.

About the author

Patrick is a recent graduate of the Enriched Science program at Dawson College.

Share This


No comments posted yet.

You have to be registered and logged in in order to post comments!