February 21, 2012

Fourth-year physicist wins Cambridge scholarship

A fourth-year at the U of C became one of 40 American students last week to receive a year-long scholarship to Cambridge University, where he will continue his research as a postgraduate on some of the most groundbreaking developments in particle physics—including the elusive Higgs boson.

Michael Baumer is the University’s 11th recipient of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which is granted to 90 international applicants annually. Established in 2000 by a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge, the award enables students to work toward graduate degrees in any field.

Baumer intends to pursue an M.Phil. in physics, having interned last summer at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). There, he was part of the team working on the ATLAS Experiment, a joint-endeavor in particle physics between the U of C and Cambridge currently ongoing at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva.

Baumer says he wants to continue his research in the field at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

“I cold-called one of the [Cambridge] professors. He said, ‘If you can get the money, we’ll take you,’” he said.

With assurance from Cambridge, Baumer applied for a Churchill Scholarship, which also pays for graduate study there, before a professor at CERN suggested he try his luck with the Gates Foundation.

At Cambridge, Baumer will continue his research on the Higgs boson, a hypothetical particle necessary to the Standard Model of physics that, once proven to exist, scientists believe will offer exciting revelations about the makeup of matter and the universe.

“The work I’ve been doing here has been laying the groundwork for that search,” Baumer said of his undergraduate work.

After his year at Cambridge, Baumer will return to the U.S. to pursue his Ph.D. He has deferred offers of admission at Harvard, Columbia, and University of California, Berkeley.