Islander Student and Victoria Substitute Teacher Spends Summer at National Lab

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – When most people think about fun summer activities, spending ten weeks coding large data-sets from a particle accelerator doesn’t usually come to mind. But for John Harrison, a senior physics major at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, it was an opportunity worth celebrating. Harrison was selected to participate in the Department of Energy’s highly competitive Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) for the summer 2018 term.

“People from all over the world apply for this internship, it’s a huge deal,” said Harrison, a non-traditional student who commutes from Victoria to attend the Island University. “When I found out I got the internship I didn’t think they had the right person at first. I called my wife right away to tell her about my offer because I was so astonished.”

While his wife and their miniature Siberian husky remained home in Victoria, Harrison spent his summer at BNL in Upton, NY. During the internship, Harrison researched subatomic particles and refined his knowledge on programming language, software, and methods for disseminating scientific results. At the end of the internship, he had the opportunity to present his research during a poster session for BNL as well as share his at the New York Scientific Data Summit.

“It was an amazing experience,” shared Harrison. “Getting to work alongside such highly esteemed scientists and to have them praise my work is something I will never forget.”

Harrison is currently working as a substitute teacher at his local high school while pursuing his degree. In this position, Harrison hopes to impart a love and curiosity of physics onto his students by showing them all the subject has to offer.

“High school is such an important age because it can make or break somebody’s curiosity,” said Harrison. “So, I try to sprinkle in some aspects of what makes physics so beautiful, like how learning about particles is like learning more about the origins of the universe, how we got here, and how everything started – physics help us unravel the universe’s questions.”

Harrison also says his Island University professors and mentors were instrumental to his success. Serendipitously, Harrison was already taking a computational physics course with Dr. Jeffery Spirko, professional assistant professor in the Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences, when Dr. Barbara Szczerbinska, professor and coordinator of the Physics program, told him about the internship opportunity.

“I knew John would be the perfect candidate for this highly competitive SULI program because he’s focused, dedicated, hardworking and open for new challenges,” Szczerbinska said. “I was super excited when John shared his acceptance letter with me because this internship allowed him to work with a team of internationally recognized scientists, advance his technical and soft skills, expand his professional network, and increase his professional confidence. I hope John will be an inspiration to many students who will consider taking advantage of similar opportunities in the future.”

In the future, Harrison plans to obtain a Ph.D. in theoretical physics. Afterward, he hopes to become a professor at a university where he can further research while teaching the next generation of physicists.