Ethiopian student participates in summer physics program at Notre Dame

Author: Sarah Cate Baker

Bj 9

Nathanael Mamusha Lemma has a passion for particle physics. Born and raised in Ethiopia and currently a student at McGill University in Quebec, Lemma spent part of his summer at the University of Notre Dame studying cosmic ray flux and muon particles as part of the International Summer Physics Institute program (iSPI).

The program brings international students to campus for two weeks to get hands-on research experience with particle physics, investigating a scientific question that has never been answered – in this case, whether or not cosmic ray flux changes during a solar eclipse.

“It’s amazing . . . It’s not how I’m used to learning,” Lemma said of his research experience. “In high school, the teacher talks and the student accepts everything. Here they open a way, and we discover everything ourselves.”

Lemma’s participation in iSPI was made possible by a trip to Africa last summer by Notre Dame physicist Tom McCauley and QuarkNet national staff teacher Kenneth Cecire. The pair attended the fourth biennial of the African School of Fundamental Physics Applications and presented particle physics workshops to high school teachers. Their trip included a stop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they gave a seminar at Lemma’s high school.

According to Cecire, maintaining a global interest in physics is essential to the field. “Particle physics is an international endeavor,” Cecire said, highlighting research being done in Switzerland, the United States,, and Japan, among other places. “If we don’t represent the international flavor of particle physics [in iSPI], we’re not showing the whole story.”

Lemma And Loughran 1200Nathanael Lemma and Thomas Loughran

Lemma’s travel to and participation in the iSPI program was completely covered by Notre Dame International.  This summer gave him the opportunity to experience what life was like as a Notre Dame undergraduate, living in a dorm and working in a lab. Although he enjoyed the beauty of the campus and getting to know the professors, Lemma said his favorite part of the Notre Dame experience was the learning style.

“I’m not used to this kind of learning, but I find it impressive,” Lemma said. “It’s interactive. We self-discover . . . I have learned many things in these two weeks, and all were through self-discovery.”

This aligns well with Cecire’s vision of the program. “We want [the students] to see that science is not just something you read in a book,” Cecire said. “We want them to actually get the chance to do what particle physicists do.”