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Meet Our Majors

Polina Abratenko

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Class Standing: Senior (but doing a 5th year next year)

Favorite Course and Why? I took Physics 460 (Quantum Mechanics II) this term and I really liked it. It was interesting to learn the various methods used in actual applications of problem solving with quantum mechanics.

Why are you majoring in Physics? I have always been interested in nature, ever since I was little. I decided to study physics because I liked how it gives us as basic an understanding of nature as possible, and does so with the precision of the language of mathematics.

What has surprised you about studying physics? One thing that surprised me about studying physics is the amount of skills that some physics research requires that students don’t normally learn in class. For example, I started using a GNU/Linux system as my main operating system when I was a junior in high school just for fun, and I kept the hobby up through college. Then, as a junior in college, I ended up completing a physics research project that required an intimate knowledge of working with Linux systems. I never learned anything about Linux in my classes, so my hobby accidentally ended up paying off.  I never realized until later that the computer skills I was learning for fun were directly applicable to actual physics research.

Advice to your peers considering a Physics major? For those considering majoring in physics: Physics is a really rewarding major that not only teaches you about how nature works, but also sharpens your problem-solving skills, which is very helpful even if you go on to have a career outside of physics. Some advice I have for those already doing a physics major is to consider taking an introductory programming class, such as EECS 183. Both physics in the classroom and in research require some knowledge of programming (in languages such as Python or C++), and while these can be learned on the side, it’s nice to have a formal course on the topic that also covers details such as good style and testing your code. I would also consider taking some classes from the math department, such as linear algebra, to help with your understanding of the math used in physics.

What are your career aspirations? My ambition is to go on to have a career in research. If possible, I would like to stay in my current field of interest, neutrino physics. While I would prefer to work on physics in academia or a national lab, I am also open to a research career in industry working on topics that require a similar skill set, such as electronics or big data.

What do you do when you aren’t studying? One of my favorite hobbies is watching documentaries on random topics on YouTube, e.g. cassowaries, dog shows, the history of whaling.

Highlights: Polina Abratenko has organized a set of approximately hour-long workshops (sometimes they are 1.5 to 2 hours long) on technical subjects not usually covered in the classroom. Current workshops have included an Intro to LaTeX (taught by Polina); CAD; Git/Github; Mathematica; Python Data Visualization; and “GNU/Linux and How to Use a Supercomputer, and the Terminal”. The most recent workshop was a three-part series on Python (taught in part by Polina). There have been 9 workshops total so far. The average number of attendees is 6 students, with a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 12. The workshops are attended by both physics graduate and undergraduate students. These workshops are available throughout the academic year, and are held biweekly (on off-weeks from the biweekly Society of Physics Students seminars). They are scheduled to continue next year.

Polina’s research areas include:
Nanoscale Optics REU (summer 2015) Worked in a lab to create a material with the same optical properties as chameleon skin. (The REU was at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)

Campbell High Energy Physics Group (KOTO) (2015-2016)  Set up network booting with Scientific Linux 5 on newer lab processors. Completed tutorials on FPGA programming.

Neutrino Physics REU (MicroBooNE) (Summer 2016) Investigated using multiple Coulomb scattering to determine neutrino-induced muon momentum for the MicroBooNE experiment. (The REU was at Columbia University.)

Spitz Neutrino Group (also working on MicroBoone) (Current) Continued with multiple Coulomb scattering analyses, including investigating space charge effects and other applications of MCS.