Summer Centered: Carter Patterson ’20 Works Under Pressure
In an on-campus physics lab, the physics and math double major tests the cohesive properties of simulated particles.
Supported by a grant from the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, Carter Patterson ‘20 is spending the summer working in Professor Theodore Brzinski’s physics lab on campus.
Patterson’s love of physics is certainly not new; they’ve been interested in the field since the sixth grade. (Patterson uses they/them pronouns.) “I've always loved learning about the world and how it works,” they said, “and physics is the perfect way to do that.”
A physics and math double major and gender and sexuality studies minor, Patterson is testing different methods of adhering granular particles together. “Once we have solved this challenge,” they said, “we will be studying how collections of these particles behave when they are compressed and pulled apart.”
"I'm working under Professor Brzinski, who was my lab instructor this past semester,” Patterson said, “In the long term, Professor Brzinski intends to develop this project into a collaboration with a colleague in Germany who is studying the formation of planets in the early solar system.”
Patterson’s days may be spent in Professor Brzinksi’s lab at Haverford, but their research has significant implications for future scientific understanding around the world.
"The research I'm currently working on has the potential to give us further insight into how planets form,” said Patterson. “It's hard to believe that such a seemingly simple process is not fully understood - we can find planets orbiting other stars hundreds of lightyears away but we still aren't sure how our own Earth formed.”
For Patterson, working in STEM is also an opportunity to reshape stigmas around identity. “It's nice to be able to challenge the status quo of cisgender men dominating the field,” they said. “Issues of diversity are near and dear to my heart, and I'm incredibly thankful for the opportunity to bring a new perspective into the lab.”
Despite the small size of the particles themselves, Patterson’s work has had a big impact on their plans for the future.
"This internship has given me a better understanding of what physics research work is actually like,” they said.“While our curriculum does a good job of exposing us to different laboratory equipment, we don't really design our own experiments. When actually working in physics, you have to design your own experiments, not just carry out ones that are already planned for you, so this summer experience has been very valuable for me.”
"Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.