Looking to the stars to understand the universe

Liam Patterson 19

UC students are reaching new heights in internships all over the world.

Many of us like to look to the stars, but for Physics major Liam Patterson ’19, looking skyward is not just the serenity of the universe at large, but an opportunity to help understand the way a piece of that universe works.

UC Physics Professor Linda Dake encouraged Patterson to explore the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which places qualified undergraduate students at National Science Foundation-funded research sites all over the country. An opportunity to study astrophysics at the University of Colorado Boulder appealed to him most. “I’d never been outside the eastern U.S., so I was excited to see that part of the country.” He applied and was accepted.

There at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, Patterson worked with data collected in the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment to study solar flares, the sudden release of energy in the solar atmosphere. Under the guidance of a mentor, he wrote computer code to detect flares and help scientists understand why—and when—they’re likely to happen.

As a kid, Patterson was obsessed with astronomy. “My parents took me to planetariums, and I loved the idea of exploring the unknown,” he says. “The sun fascinates me because it’s our closest star and there’s still so much we don’t know about it.” After graduating in spring 2019, Patterson plans to study solar physics in graduate school.

When he wasn’t in the lab, Patterson found time to explore Boulder, mostly on his bike. “Boulder is extremely bike-friendly,” he says. “There are bike paths everywhere, and there was even a bike trail from my apartment to my office.” Rocky Mountain National Park was a favorite destination, too. “It’s a great place for stargazing,” he says. “You can see everything.”

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