10 questions for a particle physicist: Dave Schmitz

From Energy Blog, April 7, 2011

Particle physicist Dave Schmitz works on the MINERvA experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Lab — he took some time to tell us why neutrinos (electrically neutral, subatomic particles) are important to the universe and why the time 1:32am has special meaning for his experiment. And, check out Dr. Schmitz’s talk last week– “In One Ear and Out the Other: A Talk about Neutrino” — as part of Fermilab’s ‘Physics for Everyone’ lecture series.

Question: What sparked your interest in pursuing a career in science?

I started my career in science relatively late. I originally started as an architectural engineering student in college. I didn’t change to physics until late in my fourth year as an undergraduate. I had read several physics books for a public audience and became interested in learning more. I decided to enroll in a Physics III course as an elective towards my engineering degree. I remember my advisor thinking that I was completely nuts and only reluctantly signing my enrollment card. Maybe he was so hesitant because he feared I would not return to architecture.

That semester, the class touched on the concepts of relativity and quantum mechanics for the first time. My professor was very enthusiastic and would happily spend extra time out of class discussing anything I wanted. At the end of that semester I joined a research group studying neutrinos produced by distant cosmological sources that interacted in the polar ice cap at the South Pole. In December 2000, I had the thrill of traveling to the experiment for two weeks to deploy some new equipment. If I wasn’t already hooked on a career in science, a trip to the bottom of the earth sealed the deal.

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