Jamie Saxon '09 Helps Launch CERN's Large Hadron Collider

Yiwen Looi '09

Jamie Saxon '09 Helps Launch
CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Geneva 

by Yiwen Looi  '09

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Jamie Saxon '09 at CERN headquarters in Geneva.


When the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) finally activated the much-anticipated Large Hadron Collider (LHC) last month, Swarthmore had something personal to be proud of: Jamie Saxon '09 was part of the group that played a central role in the design, construction, and commissioning of the Transition Radiation Tracker (TRT) of the project. Learn more in The Phoenix. 

This accomplishment had been seven years in the making. When he was only a sophomore at Strath Haven High School - mere blocks from the College - Jamie wrote to various professors at the University of Pennsylvania asking for a research job, eager to kick-start his passion for physics. The High Energy Program at Penn gave him an opportunity to help with their work on the LHC. Calling physics a "full-time job", Jamie never pursued other research areas, returning to Penn for the next two summers and eventually heading to Geneva to work at the CERN headquarters.

Jamie first arrived in Geneva for a collaborative project meeting as a high school junior. His description of the atmosphere at CERN brings to mind an environment that might be familiar to all Swatties. "Here was a community," he says, "that was vastly multilingual, energetic and lively, intelligent, demanding, and pursuing something totally awesome." After that visit, Jamie says he was "completely sold." He spent three summers toiling away at Penn, making prototype electronics and learning about the project in general. Upon earning his keep, he moved on to Geneva for the next three summers, engaging in more technical and experimental work related specifically to the TRT.

An honors political science and physics major, Jamie has taken a leave of absence this semester to be at CERN for the final preparations and launch of the LHC. This year, he was also awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, a national science grant, receiving $7,500 towards his college expenses for his senior year. Jamie's work on the LHC was an integral part of his successful Goldwater application.

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The Transition Radiation Tracker of the ATLAS Project.


Despite his fulfilling experience at a large research university, Jamie stresses that Swarthmore had always been his first choice. Growing up in the town, he had taken classes in the Political Science Department as a high school senior (he says Associate Professor of Political Science Cynthia Halpern's introductory course "absolutely blew my mind"), and was able to ask two Swarthmore professors to recommend his admission to the College. Jamie fondly remembers sledding on Parrish Beach and biking around the campus as a child, and even took part in the Music Department's production of the Magic Flute in 10th grade.

Says Jamie of his charmed history with the College: "I saw Swarthmore as a dynamic place where people were passionate about things that interested me, and where if you asked the right questions, everyone had something to teach you, and they were eager to learn from you in return. Swatties learn to see themselves in a larger structure that informs their decisions, their actions, and their passions. This is the intellectual intensity, daring, and honesty of the place that makes it so exceptional."

From Swarthmore to Jamie: the admiration is mutual.