The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland houses the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the particles that make up our universe. Considered to be the leading institution for physics research, more than 10,000 scientists from over 100 countries visit CERN every year. And this year, one of them is a cardinal. Kyle Jones is a 2019 graduate of our Department of Physics and Astronomy and is currently a Research Assistant and Fellow at CERN as part of his Ph.D. program at the University of Texas, Arlington. 

Meet Kyle Jones

Kyle Jones at CERN

I attended Ball State from 2015 to 2019. I graduated with a bachelor of science in physics with minors in math and computer science. I also graduated from the Honors College, with my honors thesis being about the computer modeling of diatomic molecules using density functional theory. I also was the president of the Doctor Who fan club (called the Gallifreyan Anthropology Club) as well as the social media manager for the University’s board game club. As an undergraduate, I presented my research at the Butler Undergraduate Research Conference twice and at the American Physical Society’s 2019 March Meeting in Boston.

Tell us about your current job.

I work as a graduate research assistant at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), and I’m a graduate student currently working on a Ph.D. in physics. I currently live in the town of Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland. I’m doing research work using machine learning to analyze data produced by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Most of my day-to-day work involves using computer code to analyze data, but starting in September, I’m going to do work on the trigger systems (basically computer programs that differentiate between potentially useful and useless data and throw out useless data produced by the particle collider as it runs), and I’m planning to sign up soon to help collect data at the particle collider itself.

What is the most fulfilling part of your current job?

I love it when I solve a difficult problem in my code. It can be frustrating when things aren’t working, and you don’t know why, but that moment when you figure it out is great. I also love that I’m working on deepening our understanding of the universe. Learning more about how the universe works was what attracted me to physics in the first place, and any opportunity to even be a small part of the effort to expand our knowledge is something that excites me greatly.

Was there a particular class, professor, or professional opportunity that had a particularly significant impact on you?

Coding and computer programming. My minor in computer science put me ahead of a lot of my peers in that area, and a lot of physics research nowadays is built around that. It is probably what got me to be able to work with Dr. Farbin and be in the position I’m in today.

My undergraduate research work with Dr. Antonio Cancio was immensely important to me, as it helped me improve my coding quality immensely, and the opportunity he gave me to present my research in Boston helped me grow as a person immensely. Additionally, Dr. Mahfuza Khatun helped me out immensely in a class once when I had a personal issue, and I’m honestly not sure if I would have graduated if she had not done that. Additionally, Dr. Ranjith Wijesinghe’s teaching of both of my quantum mechanics classes helped me greatly. I was the only person in my class at UTA to pass a qualifying exam on my first try before even starting graduate school (specifically the quantum mechanics one), and I feel that the strong grounding that he gave me in that field was instrumental in me being able to do that.

What advice do you have for current or future students in your major or who might hope to follow your career path?

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Put yourself out there as much as possible, and you’ll find something that works. I was rejected from a lot of graduate schools before I got accepted into any. Don’t be afraid of new opportunities even if they’re daunting. Moving to a new country, while exciting, was scary in a lot of ways, and there were some difficult moments. I’m happy to have done so, however, and I feel that it was worth it in the end. Pick up some ancillary but related skills. My computer science classes have helped me just as much in my work as my physics ones, and one of the most useful classes I ever took was an honors class on eastern philosophy, which has shifted my outlook on a lot of my life. Having a broad base of knowledge is much better than knowing everything about one narrow field. You never know when a seemingly unrelated topic will be useful to you.

The Cardinal Directions Series highlights recent alumni taking flight and making a difference. Read the full series here or check out the adventures of another physics alumni: Melanie Isenbarger.

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