David Sweigart

Physics Undergraduate- Nonlinear (Optics) Physics

About David

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Interesting Highlights

  • Enjoys graphic design
  • Plays Ultimate Frisbee on college team
  • Ran track and cross country
  • CERN Summer Student
  • Graduate of National Academy of Information Technology (AOIT)

Advice for Students

  • Expand your connections
  • Get to know your professors
  • Don’t get too caught up in stress

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Why Physics?

Science in the Family
David comes from a family of science – his father is an astrophysicist and his mother is a registered nurse. His father always brought home fascinating posters and pictures of the Hubble telescope from work.

But, David’s interest in physics didn’t come until the summer before his freshman year of college.

The Internship That Changed His Mind
Initially, David was more interested in chemistry because of a talented high school chemistry teacher. Another one of David’s teachers was a firm believer in research and hands-on experience. 

She helped David get an internship at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). His internship was chemistry-based and involved using an atomic force microscope. 

David enjoyed the internship, but as time went on, he realized that he wasn’t so much interested in the experimental results as he was interested in how the microscope worked – the physics behind the device. From there, he decided to take a physics class and then realized that, “what I liked in chemistry really comes under the umbrella of physics.”

Answering the Big Questions
What interests David in physics is the possibility of answering the question of how the universe works. He also finds that there is elegance in how the mathematical side of physics can provide some of the answers to these questions.

David’s hope to one day make a significant discovery in the physics community comes from his own personal motivation and curiosity. 

“[I have] a drive to understand nature- I want to know how it works,” says David.

Using Physics

Exploring Optics
As an undergraduate physics researcher, David does nonlinear optics research throughout the school year. David's particular research focuses on improving optic devices. 

Optics research is centered mainly on the behavior and various aspects of light. In today’s technology, optics research has led to milestones such as incredibly fast internet speeds and less invasive surgeries.  

David’s latest research project focuses on understanding organic solar cells. His research project is very in-tune with the world’s push for greener technology and a cleaner environment.  

Uncovering the Mysteries of the Universe
David got the chance of a lifetime when the University of Michigan Research for Undergraduates (REU) program gave him the chance to work at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

David worked on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The goals of the ATLAS experiment are to test the Standard Model (SM) at the new energy frontier of the LHC and to look for any new results that might indicate the existence of new particles.

David says, “we only know about the 5% of the universe that’s visible.” Currently, parts of the universe can be explained by the Standard Model of particle physics, which is a model that focuses on the theory of fundamental particles and their interactions. David’s research group uses advanced computer programs to look for any unexplained events in the LHC.

Not only did David get to use his physics and computing knowledge to study the universe at his internship, but he also got to attend lectures and seminars with world-renowned physicists, not to mention explore Europe when he wasn't in the lab.

Advice for Students

Don’t Be Discouraged By Setbacks!
When David first started applying to physics internships, he remembers applying to about ten internships. At that time, David’s research from the FDA had already been published and he was excelling in school, but he still did not get any of the internships.

However, not being accepted to any summer internships opened the path to David's future in undergraduate research. He spoke to his professor, Dr. Michael Hayden, about possibly doing research with his nonlinear optics lab group and his professor took him in for that summer and beyond. Now, David's even working at CERN!

It’s All About Who You Know
“Connections will get you everywhere,” says David. Many times it’s hard for a student to get the chance to do research or even get an internship. But, just getting to know your professors and being exposed to more opportunities will allow you to excel in physics. He credits his professor’s good recommendation for getting him the chance to work at CERN.

Be Open-Minded
All of the technological innovations and questions about nature have roots in physics. We wouldn’t have the iPhone or the iPod Touch without physics. David explains that physics is everywhere and you can use physics to answer all of the questions that you asked as a kid, such as, “why does the sun shine?”

He admits that physics can be difficult, but any other science or math can be just as difficult. David wants students to know that physics can be interesting and over time they will come to love the subject like he does.