Hey everyone! My name is Anisha. I’m a senior majoring in physics currently in my last semester at Cal. Many students would probably agree that your final semester in undergrad can be a very exciting but also pretty nerve-wracking time. You’ve been on a path for more or less the last four years of your life and you’re finally approaching your destination. But then you have to ask yourself: well, where do I go now?
To start trying to answer that question for myself, I spent much of this semester not looking forward, but rather taking time to look back. I’d like to share a bit of that reflection on what lead me to study physics in college and my subsequent undergraduate experience.
In high school, there was never any particular subject I disliked. And although that predicament may have worked well for report cards, it didn’t help when it came to choosing a career path or course of study to pursue in college. I didn’t have a passion for anything. However, while I didn’t have any passions, I did have a lot of questions
There was a particular question I was interested in at the time. That question came from the other end of the academic spectrum compared to physics. It came from music. I was awfully shy when I was little, but music gave me something to be proud of. Over the years, playing the piano and clarinet became a large part of my life. I was curious about the acoustics of my clarinet. A simple question: why does my clarinet sound the way it does? That question sparked a two-year project in high school analyzing harmonic spectra and vibrations, their relationship to physical sound, and how that relationship could be modified. Physics gave me a new way to look at the music I’d been making for years.
From that experience, I realized there was a place for people with lots of questions: physics. Throughout college, I had the opportunity to discover the exciting possibilities that come from asking questions, particularly the ones that haven’t been asked before. I was able to explore the field of physics, not just as a student, but as a scientist.
One of my first experiences with scientific research was in working with Dr. Carl Haber at Lawrence Berkeley Lab on the IRENE project. The IRENE project implements instrumentation from particle physics to scan the surfaces of phonographic discs and cylinders which are too damaged to be played through mechanical playback. Using interferometry techniques, we can create digital maps of these surfaces. Then through image analysis of these maps, we can reproduce the audio data of the artifact with no contact.
My experiences working on the IRENE project undoubtedly opened many doors for me. It eventually led me to the opportunity to work with Dr. Daniel McKinsey at UC Berkeley on the LUX Experiment, a dark matter detector, and then with Dr. Stuart Brown at UCLA on NMR experiments to study superconducting materials. But perhaps even more importantly it showed me the need for a wide diversity of perspectives in scientific research. When conducting acoustics research, my background as a musician often offered me an additional lens to view our data through. For most students, college can be a time of challenges both academic and personal. For me, a chronic challenge was believing that I had the ability to be a good scientist. My experience working on IRENE however showed me there was a space for me in this field.
Fast-forward from disinterested high schooler and self-doubting undergrad, I now feel not just confidence, but pride when I introduce myself- Anisha Singh: Physicist. I’m excited to be continuing to study physics this fall in graduate school and pursuing a career as a scientist. Although as graduation nears and my next steps for beyond college become much clearer, when I look back now on the moments where my path was less certain, I don’t see a time of anxiety, but rather a time brimming with the possibility of new opportunities and the undeniable promise of new questions.