"To be made of subatomic particles and to be part of a vast universe, yet be able to understand both, that is magical."

High School Physics Students' Summer Go-fer Program at ACP: Mentoring the Next Generation of Scientists, Engineers and Mathematicians

Since 2011, the Center has offered one–week, part–time jobs to rising seniors from Roaring Fork Valley high schools. The students have been recommended by their physics teachers because they are responsible juniors interested in science as a college major or career. Spending a week with physicists has inspired several of our go–fers, as you will read below.

The students do odd jobs around the campus, from making coffee to weeding, but most importantly, we arrange one-on-one meetings with physicists for them. They may be interested in a particular school or in an aspect of physics they'd like to learn more about. Sometimes they want to know what the daily life of a scientist is like. After their week, they feel more confident in approaching professors and a little clearer about possible college choices. They might be invited to contact the mentoring physicists for a private tour when they visit college campuses.

To further involve valley physics students in interactions with working physicists, on the fourth Tuesday of every month, students interview a physicist on KDNK's show, “Radio Physics.” For more information, click the Radio Physics on KDNK link on the left.

Reports from Our Alumni

Caroline Boyd, Aspen High School and Colorado College
“Working at the Aspen Center for Physics was more rewarding than I could have imagined. I met with young women in physics, learned from their experiences, got valuable advice regarding classes I should take, and heard about the benefits and drawbacks of various majors and careers.

““Radio Physics” was beneficial as well. Once, another student and I had more questions on superconductivity after the radio show so we exchanged emails with the physicist and planned another time to talk. From our radio chat and other experiences talking with physicists on the ACP grounds, we felt comfortable setting up a Skype session with her, talking for nearly an hour. This personal meeting let us delve deeper into the science of superconductivity while also giving us the chance to ask personal questions. I am pursuing a Molecular and Cellular Biology major with a Physics minor. I have long known that I have a passion for biology, but after high school physics courses and my time at ACP observing and conversing with physicists, I discovered my enthusiasm for physics as well.”

Sara Fleming, Glenwood Springs High School
“I really appreciate the Aspen Center for Physics for offering such an awesome opportunity to high school students. As a go-fer, I got the chance to not only meet some of the world's leading physicists, but to see them at work. Through the “Radio Physics” interviews, I was able to discuss complex ideas with experts, asking challenging questions and improving my skills at communicating abstract and difficult concepts. I found that the world of physics is much more approachable than many people believe it to be. Thanks to ACP, I feel confident that I will be better equipped to try and understand physics as well as other complex subjects in college and later in life.”

Skylar Knight, Aspen High School and the University of San Francisco
“Working at the Aspen Center for Physics helped me solidify my decision to go into the sciences in college. After seeing the passion of the physicists, as well as getting to experience the atmosphere that only a physics center full of beyond intelligent individuals can provide, I knew that my love for science would continue to drive me. It was truly an amazing opportunity that I am very grateful I had the chance to be a part of.”

Natalie Melville, Aspen High School and Tulane University
“Working at the ACP allowed me to learn what a job as a physicist might look like, and how exciting it is to be constantly learning and researching and sharing with those around you. I am now a physics major because of the great people I met and the great future I saw while working as a go-fer at the ACP.”

Cole Pazar, Aspen High School and University of Colorado at Boulder
“I am currently a geology major, astronomy minor and a prospective doctoral student in planetary geology. I was always interested in science and took IB Physics in high school. My teacher, Marc Whitley, recommended me for a summer job at the Aspen Center for Physics where I began my exploring what it means to make a career in science: doing physics and math on blackboards with chalk and excitedly discussing ideas with other physicists. It gave me my very first perspective into the real life of a scientist.

“You don't learn much physics as a go-fer at ACP unless you spend time staring at blackboards with scribbled equations but that doesn't mean you don't learn anything. One day you will be planting flowers and the next organizing files. It is quite amazing that there is a job for high school students that you get paid to do at a place that hosts some of the most intelligent scientists on the Earth.

“One day I spent an hour chatting with a brilliant astrophysicist. I asked him lots of questions about his work, life as a physicist, and other miscellaneous questions about astronomy. Talking to him was very valuable for me. It made me realize that a career in astronomy requires a lot of mathematics and sitting behind a computer screen, rather than being out in nature as a geologist. This made me decide that I wanted to major in geology, not astronomy, although I am an astronomy minor. My experience at ACP increased my drive to understand our universe and pursue my interest in planetary sciences at the college level. In the future, as a planetary geologist, I hope to perform interdisciplinary research to develop a better understanding of the interconnected and dynamic processes that govern the evolution of a planet, landscape evolution and geomorphology, which I can apply to any planetary surface.”

Shelby Zasacky, Aspen High School and Carnegie Mellon University
“I am involved in computational cosmology research now (at Carnegie Mellon University) and I never imagined I would be in such a position even just one year ago. I definitely owe part of that to the opportunities ACP gave me. All of the physicists here in the computational cosmology wing are quite amazing both in their work and in their kindness and willingness to help, especially Shirley Ho. It's incredibly inspiring to see such a strong, accomplished woman in this field.

“It's absolutely wonderful that the Aspen Center for Physics chooses to do so much for the high schoolers of the valley. Of course, the Center for Physics is a well-known Mecca for theoretical physicists at the top of their field, but you manage to include the entire Roaring Fork Valley doing one of the most important tasks for the world of physics and science: inspiring and including the younger generation. From toddlers who attend the kids barbecues to us high school go-fers you vaporize that glass wall between the academic world and the rest of the world. I wish the rest of society could do it.

“As a high school student (completely ordinary, except, perhaps, for my willingness to work hard), I was able to interview physicists over the radio, watch lectures from celebrities in the world of physics, talk to physicists in person, one-on-one (some of whom will be my professors), sneak a peek at blackboards or academic papers they had recycled -- where I learned the true meaning of “one man's trash is another's treasure!” -- and find my passion and major of choice. I realized after maybe the first week at CMU how advantageous it will be. All of the people affiliated with the physics department from fellow students to the advisors and professors are absolutely wonderful people. It is an amazing community to be a part of -- and we even have our own physics lounge!

“It's easy to overlook wonderful opportunities when they are part of your routine, but now I see what a unique opportunity it was to watch people speak about their work in science for free and become personally involved as a high school student. My time spent at the Aspen Center for Physics will always be one of my fondest memories of my hometown.”