Doctoral student earns the opportunity to research with CERN

On her way to a doctoral degree at Louisiana Tech University, Zahra Farazpay has taught fundamental physics to college students, helped guide an international masterclass in particle physics for local high school students, and researched the strong nuclear force with Dr. Lee Sawyer. This fall Farazpay will begin work on the European Council for Nuclear Research’s A Toroidal LHC ApparatuS (CERN ATLAS) Experiment.

Farazpay, who is pursuing a doctorate in engineering with a concentration in physics, joined Louisiana Tech in 2019 to research the strong nuclear force (one of the four types of force, along with gravitation, electromagnetic, and weak force, that make up the universe) with Sawyer, Director of Chemistry and Physics and Professor of Physics, as well as to learn more about subatomic particles and how the universe is constructed.

She says that Louisiana Tech’s connection to the ATLAS Experiment, a particle physics experiment at the world’s most powerful particle accelerator the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was the top reason she chose to study at Tech.

“The opportunity to work with Dr. Sawyer and Dr. [Markus] Wobisch (Associate Professor of Physics) was one of the reasons I applied to Louisiana Tech,” she said. “I have been interested in particle physics since before I decided to pursue graduate studies and was looking to study at a university that collaborates with CERN. When I found out that Dr. Sawyer and Dr. Wobisch were working with the ATLAS project that is part of CERN, I decided to apply to the University.”

“The Engineering Physics PhD allows students to perform research with renowned physics faculty, sometimes on large international projects, and to mentor and teach aspiring young scientists and engineers in their role as teacher assistants,” Dr. Collin Wick, associate dean of Graduate Studies for Louisiana Tech’s College of Engineering and Science, said.

Following several quarters as a teaching assistant in undergraduate physics classes, Farazpay received an invitation to introduce younger students to particle physics when Sawyer asked her to help him deliver an International Masterclass in Hands-On Particle Physics using ATLAS Experiment data.

Over the course of the 2020-21 year, Farazpay helped Sawyer and West Monroe High School teacher Laura Duke provide data to 10 West Monroe High School students and help them learn to analyze and interpret the data. Farazpay embraced her role with enthusiasm.

“The way the universe works is so exciting, and physics is the key tool to understanding it,” Farazpay said. “Understanding physics helps us to understand the very fundamentals of our existence. It gives us the blueprints for the advancement of science and technology. I believe we need to persuade the young generation to learn about science. They need some motivation, and these kinds of activities can open their horizon.”

“Zahra is a really smart and skilled young physicist, and it is clear that she will be an excellent researcher,” Sawyer added. “Since it is also important for all scientists to learn how to explain our work to the public, and particularly to the next generation, I welcomed the opportunity to get her involved with the International Particle Physics Masterclass.”

As she delves deeper into her research on the strong force, Farazpay says that she intends to remain involved in the education of the next generation of physicists.

“I love interacting with students. I’ve really enjoyed working with students in the Physics 262 class. Since most of the students who enroll in that class are not physics majors, I get to introduce them to the beauty of physics and its wondrous ways. Because I love both research and teaching, I want to continue to work in academia after I graduate.”


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