Student studies neutrinos during summer research in Utah

Student studies neutrinos during summer research in Utah

You don’t have to know what neutrinos are to appreciate the scientists who study them, including Presbyterian College student Tori Snyder.

Snyder, a senior mathematics and physics major from Simpsonville, participated last summer in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program funded by the National Science Foundation. At the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, she joined a small cohort that worked in a laboratory calibrating and testing cameras for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole.

The daughter of Jeff and Terri Snyder of Simpsonville, Snyder explained that the Antarctic observatory uses optical modules to detect neutrinos – practically massless, sub-atomic particles – from space and can do so more efficiently and less costly than using a particle collider.

The experience put Snyder and other members of her cohort in contact with career physicists and the scientific community from different parts of the United States and other countries, including Korea and Sweden. Summer research also inspired her to pursue a doctorate in physics and a career as a researcher and professor.

“I really like teaching,” Snyder said. “And I would like to continue doing work on cosmic rays.”

Undergraduate research

Undergraduate research in physics studying neutrinos funded by the National Science Foundation.

Being a student researcher out west was also fun, Snyder said. She and her fellow undergraduate researchers explored Salt Lake City, took a day trip to Las Vegas, and went hiking and camping.

And Snyder said she also learned as much about the scientists she worked with as she did the sub-atomic particles they studied. Including herself.

“At first, I was really nervous,” she said. “I was suffering some Imposter Syndrome like I didn’t belong there with the rest of the group. But I realized they were more like me than I thought. They are just people who really like science and research. And, yeah, some of them are geniuses – but there is humanity in those geniuses.”

Snyder has been a researcher on campus, as well.

“Tori has worked on several projects in my lab, the Space Weather Undergraduate Research Laboratory (SWURL) — most memorably one related to galactic cosmic rays for which she won a NASA research award,” said professor of physics Dr. James Wanliss. “In this research, Tori considered the way in which the movement of our planet in and out of the spiral arms of our galaxy influences the flux of cosmic rays on our planet, which plays an important role in climate.”

Snyder’s professors believe she has a bright future ahead.

“Tori is a talented student who has really grown as a mathematician in the last two years,” said professor of mathematics Dr. Kara Shavo. “She seems mature beyond her years to me because she’s unafraid of the frustration that comes with studying upper-level mathematics. She understands that confusion usually comes before clarity and she’s willing to put in the hard work to get there.”

Dr. Brian Beasley, the Charles E. Daniel Professor of Mathematics, said he has enjoyed watching one of his students embrace math and physics.

“Tori is a delight to have in class, especially since she is not shy about seeing math and physics as “cool!’” he said. “It was good to hear her confidence in applying what she learned from us in group theory and matrix theory to the study of particle physics. I believe that the sky is the limit for Tori as she looks ahead to graduate school, and I am looking forward to hearing great things from her and about her in the future.”