Michael and Emily

Michael (and wife Emily) Gardener- Class of 2004

PhD Candidate in Physics working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland


Michael, could you fill us in on what you have been up to after graduating from Rosslyn?

After graduating, I went to Westmont College in Santa Barbara. While there, I double majored in Physics and Computer Science and minored in Mathematics. I also played on the Westmont Rugby Team and met and began dating Emily.

During two summers I did Nuclear Physics research with Dr. Warren Rogers, a Physics Professor at Westmont. The research was part of the MoNA (modular neutron array) Collaboration at the NSCL (National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory) at MSU (Michigan State University), and was focused on the study of the decay of super proton heavy nuclei.

After those summers, I became interested in Physics research, and applied for Graduate School. Due to my experience in Nuclear Physics research, UC Davis accepted me into their Ph.D program, and I joined the Heavy Ion Group there (Heavy Ion physics is an area of physics fitting between Nuclear Physics and High Energy Particle Physics). The Heavy Ion group at UC Davis does research with both the LHC (Large Hadron collider) at CERN (Center for Nuclear Research), and RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) at Brookhaven Laborotory. So, I decided to participate in the LHC project, at CERN as part of my PhD work.

What specifically is your PhD on?

My research is in a sentence studying and measuring signatures of the Quark-Gluon-Plasma formed in Heavy Ion collisions at CMS.

Could you explain that for the lay person?

Sure.  Just as when you take ice, and heat it up and apply added pressure, it will go from a solid to a liquid, to a gas, and then at some point to plasma, you can change the state of matter at the nuclear level. When you take lead particles, accelerate them to extremely high speeds/energies, and crash them together, the extremely high energy and density in the center of the collision forms a new state of matter called the Quark-Gluon Plasma and can be thought of as a soup of quarks and gluons (usually quarks and gluons are only found bound together inside of a nucleus or a type of particle called a meson). This state of matter, is the state of the universe at 10 seconds after the Big Bang.

So, I’m studying the signatures for the formation of this new state of matter, which allows us to determine at what point this new state of matter is formed, as well as allowing us to measure properties of this state of matter.

What are a few things that you appreciated most about Rosslyn?

Athletics: I was above average in sports, but I wasn’t a great at any sport. I feel that the size of the school, and the variety of sports available allowed me to play and participate on a great team (due to great Coaches) in a sport where I never would be able to at a bigger school. This is where a lot of friendships were made, and where I learned a lot about discipline.

CFS: Freshman year, by the spring I still didn’t feel like I had any friends. During CFS our group had a lot of time to get to know each other, and helped me to feel like I belonged. The next 3 years, my CFS experience was a great opportunity to experience Kenya in a way I wasn’t able to otherwise. It helped give me an idea of life outside of Nairobi. Unique and completely unrepeatable experience

Variety of Electives: I took Art, Singing, Hand Bells, Journalism, French. Art, Singing and Hand Bells showed me I wasn’t as terrible at creating, or being artistic as I thought. Journalism taught me a lot about questioning sources (which is really important in Physics research), as well as learning about intellectual curiosity and honesty.

AP Classes: First of all, the AP classes at Rosslyn are comparable in difficulty to my college classes. The work I put in for these classes taught me how to study, how to stay organized and how to work hard. Second, our classes had a crazy success rate (number of 4s and 5s on the tests), which allowed me to get credit for college classes, and gave me huge flexibility to take the classes that I wanted in College.

What teacher(s) had the greatest influence on you and why?

Mr. Unger: I have so many positive memories of Mr. Unger, and I had him for 2 classes. He pushed all of his students to work hard, and was very good at explaining things. It was clear that he cared a great deal about his students, as he was constantly changing things up based on his students needs.

Mr. Wes Loewer: He was only at Rosslyn for my final year, but I probably would not be doing my Ph.D. in Physics if it weren’t for Mr. Loewer. For my AP Physics class, we were constantly leaving class for labs, measuring coefficient of friction on slides, angular velocity on merry-go-rounds and pendulum periods in the gym. It was an intense class, and Mr. Loewer held extra classes on a few Saturday, and had his classes over for lunch at his house once or twice. His class prepared me well for doing Physics in college.

Mr. Flosi: The previous two teachers taught in subjects I was very strong in (Physics and Math), and Mr. Flosi taught English. I loved his classes, and thought for a bit that maybe I wanted to go into something English related. I found out I wasn’t great in the subject, but since Mr. Flosi was such a great teacher, I really enjoyed the class. I also had him as my soccer coach for 2 years, and learned a lot about what it meant to be a leader.

Mr. Leonard: He was my basketball coach Sophomore year, taught me a lot about balance between school and sports, and about working hard no matter what you’re doing.