Particle physics research

Physics student at the forefront of nuclear research experiment

FRESNO STATE — Valerie Bauxham, of Fresno, left her career in the health field to pursue studies in physics at Fresno State. As a wife and mother of four, she knew her college journey had to be intentional—she didn’t want to waste time.

Fresno State physics student Valerie Bauxham working in the control room of the ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

“My time is extremely valuable to me. My husband is a pediatrician and we ran a rural pediatric clinic together from 2008 to 2011, then I moved to neurofeedback therapy for children from 2011 to 2016,” Bauxham said. “I remain involved in our current project, a residential treatment center for children and adolescents in crisis. However, my deep fondness for physics led me to Fresno State. I chose Fresno State because there is no other CSU campus that offers particle physics as an elective. The program offers students the opportunity to do an internship at ATLAS experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

On July 5, Bauxham was in the control room of the ATLAS (A Toroidal LHC Apparatus) experiment in Geneva, helping with live media coverage of the official start of data – taking a record energy of 13.6 TeV.

Image of the European Organization for Nuclear Research logo. In 2007, Fresno State became the first CSU to join ATLAS to CERN (an acronym for the european organization for nuclear research).

In 2013, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to theorists Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for their work developing the theory known as the Higgs field, which gives the mass of elementary particles. American scientists, including those working in the ATLAS program at Fresno State, were instrumental in advancing the theory and finding the particle that proves the existence of the the Higgs boson (or “God particle”).

In the 1960s, Higgs and Englert, along with other physicists, published research introducing the Higgs field theory. On July 4, 2012, scientists from the international experiments ATLAS and CMS confirmed this theory by announcing the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Image of Dr. Yongsheng Gao.

Dr. Yongsheng Gao.

The Department of Physics at Fresno State created the courses “Introduction to Particle Physics” (PHYS 163) and “ATLAS Experiment at CERN’s LHC” (PHYS 164) led by Professor Yongsheng Gao, who has been involved with the project for more than a decade. Online courses are now open to all students at CSU campuses.

“These courses also act as a filter to determine which students will get priority,” said Dr. Douglas Singleton, chairman of the Fresno State Department of Physics. “Both of these online courses are available to students across CSU.”

Since 2008, 20 other CSU campuses have joined the program. Under Gao’s leadership, more than 100 CSU students completed an 8- to 10-week internship at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) on the ATLAS detector at CERN. Students are selected based on their application and performance in the online course.

National Science Foundation logo image. Students traveling to Switzerland receive a $5,500 stipend from a three-year, $249,863 scholarship from the International Research Experience for National Science Foundation Students. If students choose to do their eight weeks virtually, they each receive $4,000.

“CSU students who had worked at CERN moved on to teaching, high-tech companies and PhD programs at many top research universities,” said Dr Gao. “The ATLAS/CERN research experience prepares CSU students for personal and professional success in an increasingly competitive, global and multicultural society.”

Image of the interior of the LHC at CERN.

Inside the LHC at CERN.

As a result of the COVID pandemic, Bauxham’s 2020 internship has been postponed to 2022. In the meantime, she has worked remotely for the ATLAS outreach and education team, developing teaching materials. Bauxham is now working in Geneva on digital and printed educational materials and press materials.

Bauxham attributes her success to the support of her family and the mentorship she received from Dr. Gao.

“Dr. Gao, in particular, helped me realize that no matter my age, I can still pursue education and a career in the field that I love so much.

Bauxham plans to pursue a master’s degree in science communication.

By Selene Kinder.

A short video on how the Large Hadron Collider works.