Doctoral student recalls his beginnings as a researcher

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Doctoral student recalls his beginnings as a researcherApril 26, 2021

The image to use for this article. Listing image managed through RSS tab. Emrys Peets

“The first time I flew on a plane was during my senior year at Early College School at Midland College,” Emrys Peets remembered.  “I wrote a paper on Hyperfocus and the ADHD brain for an Honors project in a Midland College psychology course. It was based on a study I had done with over 100 students, many of whom had been diagnosed with ADHD and others who had experienced ADHD symptoms.  My professor encouraged me to submit the paper to the Great Plains Honors Conference, and it was accepted.  We flew to South Padre Island, and I presented the paper at the conference.”

Since that time, Peets has flown numerous times in relation to conducting research and presenting papers in nuclear and particle physics. Currently, he is pursuing a doctoral degree at Stanford University conducting research on the detection of dark matter using linear particle accelerators.  In May 2020, he graduated from the University of Texas, Austin with two bachelor degrees—one in Mathematics and one in Physics.  As an undergraduate, he was awarded the university’s highest recognition as a Dean’s Honored Graduate with a distinction in research and a distinction in service and leadership.  

Since graduating from Early College High School at Midland College (ECHS@MC) in 2015, Peets has conducted research in many fields, some of which include working with data from the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover to designing and overseeing fusion experiments at cutting edge research laboratories, such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC and the California Institute of Technology.

“It all started from my experiences at ECHS@MC, and for that, I am very grateful,” Peets explained.  “During my junior year at ECHS@MC, I signed up for Midland College’s Honors Program.  In fact, I think I was the first ECHS student to ever be in the Honors program.  I was taking a Midland College Chemistry class, and I remember having coffee with Dr. Tom Ready, one of the chemistry professors.  He encouraged me to join one of the Midland College research groups.  So, my first research experience was at MC where I would stay long hours on Thursday and Friday nights working to dope titanium dioxide with boron to measure photocatalytic output.  This got me hooked on science and research!”

Peets was raised in Midland by his grandparents Gwen and Al Peets.  He attended Parker Elementary School and Abell Junior High.  Like the majority of ECHS@MC students, when he graduated from high school, he also graduated from Midland College with an associate degree.  He was ranked third in his high school graduating class at ECHS@MC.  However, after obtaining his associate degree and high school diploma, Peets did not immediately transfer to a university. 

“I had an opportunity to participate in research dealing with theoretical engineering and chaos theory at Texas A&M University, Kingsville, so I did that for a while and then worked at Midland College as a tutor in the Math Lab and in the dean’s office,” Peets said.  “I also worked at Museum of the Southwest and as a lifeguard.  I guess I would classify that year after high school as my ‘gap year.’  

“In January 2016, I applied to participate in a research project in nuclear physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico and was shocked when I received the letter saying that I had been accepted!  I have Midland College to thank for this incredible opportunity.  I couldn’t have applied without an associate degree.  My work at Los Alamos led me to apply to and be accepted at UT Austin and the Dean’s Scholars Honors Research Program.”

Peets admits that his first semester at the University of Texas was rough; however, by the time he graduated, his GPA was a 3.57.  He financed his undergraduate studies with federal Pell grants and student loans.  Toward the end of his time at UT Austin, he received several scholarships and was a recipient of the University of Texas Physics Presidential Endowed Scholarship.  His current doctoral studies at Stanford are fully financed with scholarships, and he receives a salary for his research work. 

Peets is an avid skateboarder.  He said that he has been skateboarding for the past 13 or 14 years.  One of his new hobbies is playing chess, which he is learning with his girlfriend Sofia Helpert, whom he met at the University of Texas.  She has also been accepted into a doctoral program at Stanford and will be conducting research in the role of artificial intelligence in physics.  In addition to exploring the West Coast, Peets and Helpert also enjoy playing with their Chihuahua/Dachshund mix named Mousse.  

“It will take me about 5 ½ years to obtain my doctorate,” Peets said.  “After that, I’d like to get a postdoctoral position at a major research laboratory.  My long-range goal is to teach and conduct research at a university.  I would consider going back to Texas.  In fact, one of the collaborators on the research project I’m currently conducting at Stanford Is a professor at Texas Tech.  We are the only group in the world doing work in this area of physics.  So, there are possibilities for expansion that I’d like to explore in the future.

“Even though I went to high school at the same time that I was working on my associate degree, I very much identify as a Midland College alum, and every time one of my colleagues or classmates in Austin would mention MC courses, I would always respond with ‘oh, yeah, I went there!’ and a smile.  As a first-generation college student, I have been so lucky to have participated in ECHS@MC and graduated with an associate degree, and I think that a lot of my success is due to the wonderful opportunities I was given at Midland College.”

You can help provide Early College High School at Midland College scholarships for students like Emrys during the Permian Basin Gives Day fundraising event.

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