Ryan O'Donnell

Physics Undergraduate- CERN Intern

About Ryan


Interesting Highlights

Advice for Students

  • Embrace the way your mind works
  • Don't limit your learning to school
  • Be honest with yourself

Why Physics?

Looking for Answers
Growing up in Chicago, Ryan always had a natural curiosity about the world. He would often ask questions that those around him had no answers to. This only increased his desire to know more, and this drive led him to physics.

 “It seems like the more questions one asks about most things, the closer those questions get to [be] about physics,” Ryan says.

Using Physics

Leading and Learning
An APS Minority Scholar and honor student, Ryan is now double majoring in Physics and Mathematics at Howard University in Washington, DC.

He is also president of his local Society of Physics Students (SPS) chapter. Recently, Nobel Laureate Eric Cornell visited the Howard, and Ryan knew it would be a great opportunity for the chapter to meet and speak with a leader in the field. Ryan took the initiative to invite Dr. Cornell as an SPS guest speaker and take an active part in the various events he was involved in.

“As a student, physics sometimes seems like a dead subject- I cannot meet Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, so it was refreshing to meet someone involved in current physics in person and have a conversation with him about his work.”

Getting His Feet Wet
In the summer of his sophomore year, Ryan was accepted into the International Research Experience for Students (IRES) program. IRES provided him with an internship at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's most powerful particle collider.

There, Ryan worked on AEgIS, which stands for "Antihydrogen Experiment: Gravity, Interferometry, Spectroscopy". AEgIS is a CERN experiment looking at how antimatter is affected by gravity.

Ryan’s main work was determining the energy distribution of experimental antiprotons before they formed antihydrogen.

“I applied to this internship because it seemed amazing, and it exceeded my expectations,” says Ryan. “[It was] a learning experience, so I was not prepared for everything that would come my way…[but]  by the time I graduate from Howard, I'm sure I will be more than prepared for high level research like this.”   

Ryan plans to continue his physics studies after graduation by pursuing a physics PhD.

Advice for Students

Embrace the Way Your Mind Works
Ryan believes that while students should be adaptable to their classes and learning environments, they need to figure out their own personal methods of studying and learning.

“A big problem with education systems is that they are geared towards a particular type of student.  Teachers typically use very unilateral teaching methods,” Ryan says. “Of course, you have to be adaptable enough to read textbooks and do some things the hard way, but if you read slow, if you learn in an unconventional way, if you would rather watch videos than read a textbook, don't feel bad; embrace the way your mind works.”
Don’t Limit Learning to the Classroom
“Try to get the most out of teachers, but don't let them limit you,” Ryan says.
Ryan believes students should not limit their drive and curiosity to what they can learn in a classroom. This is where research opportunities and internships can come into play, taking learning to another level.

Give Yourself Credit
Ryan believes students should be honest with themselves and their struggles.

"[Physics] is hard.  Many people in science or math want to seem too smart for anything to be hard, but I confess it is very hard...sometimes...I don’t feel up to the challenge," Ryan says.

Ryan believes also however this honesty extends to acknowledging their many talents and abilities.

"If you wait for confirmation from someone else to tell you that you’re awesome at something that you actually are awesome at, you’ll live much of your life underestimated and unappreciated."