19 years old and a neutrino expert

Courtney Williams, a 19-year old British student, is passionate about physics. She has just spent a week at CERN, from 12 to 16 July, a prize she won for a project on neutrinos in the framework of the European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) held in September 2009.


Courtney Williams pays a visit to the CERN Library.

“I’m returning to London after a very busy week at CERN but I hope to be back again one day, this time to work here. CERN is an amazing place for any scientist and it’s definitely the place to be if you want to study particles”, said Courtney during our interview.

Courtney has just completed the first year of her physics degree course at Imperial College in London, which means that, combined with her two years of A-level studies, she has now been studying physics - and neutrinos in particular - for a total of 3 years. Before starting her university course, Courtney spent the summer break working on ACoRNE, the Acoustic Cosmic Ray Neutrino Experiment which detects neutrinos by “listening” to the sound they produce when they come into contact with water.

Courtney’s project on the experiment won her the CERN EIROforum prize at the 21st EUCYS competition, which was held at the Palais de la Découverte in Paris in September 2009. Almost 140 budding young scientists, mainly from Europe but also from China, Japan and the United States, took part. All participants had to defend their work before a jury. Various prizes were awarded to the best candidates at the end of the competition.

Courtney’s prize was a week at CERN. “I didn’t really know what to expect before I got here”, she told us. “I was simply curious to discover new things”. For the record, Courtney has not always been mad about physics. “You might be surprised to learn that I didn’t like physics at all before I started studying the subject. But I gradually learnt about its different facets and today I’m really passionate about it.”

Courtney has several strings to her bow, which will stand her in good stead for the future. She is not only studying physics but is interested in communication and would ultimately like to find a job that combines the two. “Physics is a very big discipline so it should be possible to combine it with another field. In life it’s important to do what you enjoy and to acquire the means to do so”, she concludes. And to start as she means to continue, she is already planning to apply for the 2011 Summer Student programme. We wish her a long and happy career and look forward to seeing her back at CERN in the near future.

by Laëtitia Pedroso