Ebtihal Abdelaziz has had a keen interest in the workings of the universe since she was very young, when she first looked up at the sky and started asking questions.
“I was young, I was in downtown Cairo and the sky was so dark, and I looked at the moon, and I was like ‘ooh, I see you wherever I go… what’s happening, are you trying to be my friend or something?’ That was the only thing that made sense to me because I was five,” she said.
“As far as I remember, this was the first time I looked at the sky and truly asked a question, and tried hard to think about an answer.”
Abdelaziz, who just finished her first year at Goshen College as a mathematics and physics major from Cairo, Egypt, realized in the ninth grade that she wanted to be a theoretical physicist, and eventually go to grad school and get a Ph.D.
In her first semester she started the astronomy club after observing that some of the college’s physics equipment, like telescopes, weren’t being used much outside of class.
“We have six telescopes,” she said. “So I thought that we should have a club for people who want to talk about science and the universe and use the telescopes.”
The club, which now has around 30 members, has gotten together to watch the Mars landing last fall and has traveled to lectures and planetariums in the region.
In January, Abdelaziz attended the Midwest regional session of Conferences for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at Michigan State University, organized through the American Physical Society (APS).
After hearing a keynote address from physicist Erica Snider, who works at Fermilab and was part of a team that discovered one of the 12 particles of matter, Abdelaziz was riveted with her research and had a chance to sit down with Snider.
“I asked if she would be willing to come to Goshen College to talk about her experience and her research all the wonderful things she’s doing, and she said she would be open to do that, just send her an email,” Abdelaziz said.
She followed through and Snider spoke at Goshen College on Friday, May 10, 2019.
Snider presented a brief history of the research into neutrinos that has brought us to our current understanding, and described some of the new technologies for producing and detecting neutrinos, along with a few of the current research efforts into understanding the nature of neutrino oscillations and other properties of the neutrino.
“It’s just amazing the work she’s doing,” Abdelaziz said.
Abdelaziz recognizes the hurdles that women have had to climb in the science and technology fields, but isn’t worried about it stopping her.
“I know I have to deal with it and just do the things I like,” she said. “When I got here I was the only female in my physics class. There’s always this idea that women are not good at math, but if I didn’t know what I’m doing I probably wouldn’t be the T.A. (teaching assistant).”
Abdelaziz discovered Goshen College by a Google search when was looking for small colleges near Chicago’s Fermilab, and decided on GC based on her interactions with the people.
“I thought I should study at a place near Fermilab in Chicago, and everyone I met at Goshen was super nice,” she said. “When I got to Goshen, my admissions counselor helped me with so much with all the paperwork and visa stuff.”
You can’t miss her excitement when she’s talking about what she loves.
“I really love the universe, it makes me happy to just think about all the questions that we don’t have answers for,” She said. “Like, what happened before the big bang? What’s at the edge of the universe? And I could never answer these questions without math and physics.”