Textbook Mentors

Photo by Duane Zehr

By Matt Hawkins
June 18, 2015

Mechanical engineering major Amy Antonsen ‘16 is establishing claims to fame as she works with physicists and engineers at Fermilab. As an intern, Antonsen assists top researchers whose work will be noted in future science textbooks, thus giving her insight into the minds shaping science’s future.

“Being a part of a leading laboratory responsible for some of the biggest discoveries in particle physics makes everything much more exciting and inspiring,” she said. “Working beside some of the kindest and most helpful people has made me excited for the future.”

This is the Algonquin, Illinois, native’s second summer at the suburban Chicago laboratory. While she focused on one experiment last summer, she is assisting with technical issues on several projects this year.

As a result, she is developing versatile skills as she helps lab technicians operate the nation’s most sophisticated subatomic particle research equipment. She tinkers with particle detectors, fixes systems, learns basic repair shop tools, masters new coding languages and refines her research skills.

“I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone and I’m gaining an appreciation for working in the field,” Antonsen said. “Being more research-inclined, it’s been tough to learn some technical skills, but I’m grateful to develop them because they will be beneficial in the future.” 

Antonsen’s curiosity deepened as she discovered how classroom experiences formed the foundation for professional success. She became a better student and researcher as those connections developed. 

“You don’t grasp the importance of academic work until you’re in a setting that requires that background knowledge,” she said. “I’ve come to look at every learning experience, even ones I don’t enjoy, as a chance to grow. Everything feels like it has purpose.”

Through two summers of research, Antonsen discovered she enjoyed research enough to make it a career. She plans to pursue graduate degrees in physics while experiences like those at Fermilab prepare her for a wide range of career options applicable to her biomedical engineering concentration. 

“You don’t realize how much you can love an experiment until you spend countless hours on it,” Antonsen said. “Being able to identify that has allowed me to choose my next step after graduation. I wouldn’t have known where to go without an internship like this.