SEAS Graduate Says Physics Is Also an Art

Photograph: Feryal Ozel. Photo Credit: Eileen Barroso.

Only a few undergraduates ever get to join research teams at CERN, the world's premier particle accelerator lab in Geneva, Switzerland. You have to be devoted to physics, like Feryal Ozel, who graduates with honors today from Columbia's School of Engineering and Applied Science.

She spent last summer at CERN working with an international team of physicists at the Large Electron Positron accelerator, at 27 kilometers in circumference the largest ever built. But with such giants as Columbia's own late Nobel laureate Maria Goeppert Mayer and Pupin Professor Emeritus Chien-Shiung Wu as role models, she was not intimidated.

"I have never seen physics as a dull, technical subject," she said in a recent interview. "For me, it's the most mathematical way of looking at the universe, but it's also art."

Her enthusiasm caught the attention of other CERN researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen, and she has been accepted to begin graduate study there this September. A native of Istanbul, where her family lives, she came to the United States to study at Columbia.

"This is what I would like to do," she said. "I love teaching as well as research. After I get my Ph.D., I would like to go into academia or work at a national laboratory here or in Europe and do pure research."

Michael Mauel, professor at Columbia's department of applied physics, calls her "highly articulate and very focused on her goal." Even though her major is applied physics, among the most challenging in engineering, she was awarded the Applied Mathematics Faculty Award for excellence in that discipline.

As a Niels Bohr Institute scientist, she hopes to join the ATLAS experiment at CERN, which will look for the signatures of many different theorized particles.

One that already interests her is the Higgs boson, a theorized but never observed particle that would explain why all objects in the universe have mass. In research this past year with William Willis, Higgins Professor of Physics, at Columbia's Nevis Laboratories, she examined how a Higgs boson might decay into two photons, work that may help physicists recognize a Higgs among the many other particles created in high energy collisions.

She already speaks German and French, as well as English and Turkish, and by fall will speak Danish as well. She earned Dean's List honors every semester at Columbia, competed on Columbia Masters swim team, tutored for the Higher Education Opportunity Program and was active in the Turkish Students Association. She listens to classical music--Mozart operas are her favorite--and even sings occasionally.

"I am devoted to physics, but I don't consider myself a one-sided person who thinks of nothing but physics," she said.

Columbia University Record -- May 15, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 27