KU students will visit Large Hadron Collider in Geneva

LAWRENCE — A European research facility that recently made headlines around the globe for a breakthrough discovery is among the stops on an August trip to Germany and Switzerland for 17 University of Kansas School of Engineering students in the Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program.

Seniors in the SELF Program will visit the world’s largest particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, located in Geneva.  Researchers announced in July they discovered a particle, consistent with the characteristics of the Higgs boson, a particle that is a critical component in explaining why particles have mass and could provide a better understanding of how galaxies hold together.

“I’m really looking forward to CERN. The research they’re doing there is really interesting – and it has a huge influence over the worldwide scientific community,” said Hanna Cosgrove, a SELF Program senior studying engineering physics. “To tour that facility and see where all that work is done is just fascinating.”

The visit to CERN was arranged by KU physics professor Alice Bean, who leads a team of more than 20 KU researchers who are part of the collaboration at the Large Hadron Collider. CERN is only one part of the SELF senior class capstone experience, dubbed The Alpine Projekt. The trip is scheduled for Aug. 7-17.  The Fellows will spend six days in Germany, at Stuttgart and Munich, and an additional four days in Switzerland. 

The SELF Program is designed to develop engineering and computing graduates who are goal-oriented and bring the entrepreneurship, business skills and vision needed to guide technology-based corporations. The fellows are responsible for planning the trip, creating the itinerary, contacting potential donors, securing the funding and setting up site visits.

“This entire experience helps underscore the pillars of the SELF program and provides the Fellows with valuable academic and leadership opportunities,” said Charles Neiss, SELF Program coordinator.

In addition to CERN, student visits include Trumpf, one of the world's largest suppliers of machine tools and a world leader in laser systems; Werner Sobek, a worldwide engineering design firm known for premium design and sophisticated green technologies; and Google offices in Munich. 

This is the third SELF class to make an overseas trip for its capstone experience. The 2010 class visited China; and in 2011, it was Brazil. This year’s class took a bit of a different approach in choosing a location. 

“Previous classes went to places that are big, booming countries, but they’re still developing,” said Erik Deddens, a chemical engineering senior in the SELF Program. “We figured there would be a lot to learn from going somewhere that’s already fully developed and is viewed as a worldwide leader in engineering, so we chose these two countries.”

Another key component of the trip is for the Fellows to pass along what they learn about engineering, science, culture and heritage. The Fellows plan a series of forums later this year on campus and at area middle schools and high schools to pass along that knowledge. 

“In addition to sharing insight with our peers at KU, we really want to do all we can to showcase what engineering has to offer for kids in middle school and high school in hopes of getting them interested in the STEM (science, engineering, math, technology) fields,” said Cosgrove, who is the media coordinator for the trip. 

Several companies and School of Engineering alumni donated funds and services to make the experience possible. The lead sponsor is Ion Geophysical, led by KU electrical engineering graduate Bob Peebler. ExxonMobil, GE, and Sabre Holdings also made significant contributions.

Scott Coons, CEO of Perceptive Software, Pat and Brenda Oenbring, Linda Ellis Sims and Russ Sims, Jim and Sandy Remsberg, Mike and Joyce Shinn and Simon McPherson are the individuals with ties to the School of Engineering who also donated for The Alpine Projekt.

“It’s completely overwhelming seeing this kind of support – financial and otherwise,” said Deddens. “Our entire group is grateful.  It’s so humbling to see how willing people are to give. It certainly speaks well of our alumni.”

Madison “Al” and Lila Self, of Hinsdale, Ill., established the SELF Program in 2007 with a gift of $10 million to KU Endowment for the School of Engineering. The Selfs provided an additional $10 million in 2010. In total, the Selfs have donated $44 million to KU, which includes giving to other areas of the university.

The funds are managed by KU Endowment, the official fundraising and fund-management foundation for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university. 

Learn more about The Alpine Projekt, the SELF seniors, and follow them on their trip online.