This is something I wrote back in the distant 2005, a freshman out of the Physics department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and on my way to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pursuing a PhD in Physics. A lot has changed since then, but the feelings are still there even though I am now more of a computer geek, than a physics nerd 🙂
Since elementary school, two things I liked the most: Experiments and Computers. At that time it was quite difficult to practice any of them at school, but luckily I managed to satisfy both of my inclinations at home. I was constantly breaking my toys (to my parents disappointment and anger!) just to analyze the internal structure, get all the mechanical parts out of them and then reconnect the motors and wheels to structures I made up… The one thing I still remember most clearly is my amazement when I first discovered that if I reversed the polarity of the batteries, my toy car would go backwards… That puzzled me until I took my first electricity courses in high school. It was the first time physics enchanted me.
It was quite difficult to persuade my father to buy me a computer (he thought I would demolish it as soon as I got my 12-year-old hands on it!), but when I saw that Amstrad CPC6128 in front of me for the first time I couldn’t resist to its magic. It had great games packed along, but what fascinated me most was the possibility it gave me to create. To program my own stuff. At the beginning, I just copied source code from everywhere I could find: Manuals, magazines; I even “hacked” some games to alter them as I wanted to. But the greatest satisfaction of all was when I finished a program my dad had asked for: a personal organizer exactly as he wanted it.
Time went by, I grew older and when it was time to take the entry exams for the university I knew what I wanted to do: Physics. Computer science was okay, but it would only satisfy one of my desires. I knew that through Physics I would have the chance to develop my computing skills even more. After a couple of years of study I managed to be admitted at the Physics Department of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
To my pleasure, for the first semester we had to take an Applied Informatics Laboratory course. I immediately contacted the professor in charge, prof. George Voutsas, and thanks to my previous experience in computing I never had to attend it. I immediately became his T.A., teaching my own classmates. For the following years I would continue being his assistant, and for three consecutive semesters I was put in charge of classes on my own.
Meanwhile, I met prof. Christos Eleftheriadis who was forming an Astroparticle/High Energy Physics Simulation Group. I expressed my interest in it, and became one of the group’s founding members. At the same time, a new section was being formed in the faculty, regarding Computational Physics. I immediately enrolled in all the available courses, and I knew I had made the right choice four years ago. At last, I could combine my inclinations: I could simulate experiments using a computer! Naturally, my grades were perfect in all the required courses.
But something was missing. Inside my mind, I wanted to do something novel; I wasn’t satisfied with what I was offered. So, I proposed to prof. Eleftheriadis to write my diploma thesis on Neural Networks and their applications on High Energy Physics. It was something I had never been taught before in a class, but it had always fascinated me. What I learned from the procedure of writing my thesis was invaluable and intrigued me enough to dig even deeper into the field.
Just before finishing my thesis, I was informed that I was accepted for the 2004 CERN Summer School. There, I had the luck to work with one of the professors of my university, who is the spokesman of the axion-searching CAST experiment (Prof. Konstantin Zioutas). My task was to simulate two of the detectors’ geometry (a MicroMegas and a Calorimeter) and the effect of the thermal neutrons to their background using CERN’s simulation toolkit GEANT4 . It was the first time I was doing a real-life application and I was fascinated about it.
I was already determined, but my experience at CERN made me want even more to become a researcher. Astroparticle physics and High Energy Physics are the field of study that interest me more but I am also fascinated by chaos and non-linear dynamics, something I studied by myself even before I get into university though popular science books and magazines.
It seems to me that Physics was the one thing I was meant to do. As I keep digging, I find more and more interesting things to analyze and comprehend. This is something I do well but I’m never satisfied and searching for more… This is my idea of what is a true Physicist is supposed to do.