When critics first started denouncing research at the ATLAS experiment, warning that the project seeking to recreate conditions that existed after the Big Bang could tear a hole in the fabric of space and time and create microscopic black holes, Ossama AbouZeid didn’t fret.
The 22-year-old, who graduates this month with a degree in applied physics, says he was confident all along that the world’s largest particle accelerator was not only safe (“any black holes created will not by any means swallow the Earth”) but was one of the greatest physics experiments of his lifetime.
“ATLAS is one of the only experiments that’s really probing at the energy frontier,” says AbouZeid, who is currently monitoring the device’s forward calorimeter. “This is the place where you’re going to see evidence of brand new physics.”
AbouZeid likens the project to the groundbreaking work by famous physicist Marie Curie, the mother of radioactivity. When she discovered elements of polonium and radium in the late 1800s, it is unlikely she could have known where her research would lead.
The same goes for ATLAS, argues AbouZeid. While the immediate impact of the research isn’t known, it’s likely to help scientists create, revise and discard theories about the very nature of our world.
“Is this going to help me microwave a pizza? Probably not,” he says. “When you’re dealing with fundamental science, I don’t know if you can say the (practical uses) right away.
“Is our current model correct? What kind of additions to we have to make? Or what do we have to take away?”
These heavy thoughts are common for AbouZeid, who lives and breathe physics.
For the last four years, he’s been involved with the Carleton University Physics Society, getting together for monthly movie nights (where they watch sci-fi flicks like Event Horizon) and coffee talks with professors who feel like discussing things like “extra dimensions” in an informal setting.
“It’s great for (physics students) that are stuck doing these boring problems,” says AbouZeid. The society is also perfect for students who just can’t seem to get enough school.
And AbouZeid, admittedly, is one of them. Next year, he’s going for his PhD at the University of Toronto.
After that, he’d like to become a university professor.