The Student Movement


Women in Stem: A Peek into Physics

Interviewed by: Caryn Cruz

Photo by Kara Shepard

I interviewed Kara Shepard (senior), a current physics and mathematical studies major about her current studies and exciting research that she is involved with with the Andrews Physics department!

Why did you initially choose your major?
Ever since I was a little kid, I have always loved outer space. I’d see pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope, and it would amaze me to know that these beautiful galaxies and nebulas existed up in the sky so far away. I was also fascinated by the fact that humans had figured out how to go to space, that we could build things that could take us up there, and that these things could see these faraway structures and send pictures back to earth.

As I got older, especially into high school, I read a lot of books about theoretical physics and the possibilities of what humans could still accomplish that fueled my interest in the subject. Around this time I also got into the 1985 TV show MacGyver. The titular character had a physics degree and was using it to help people and society, applying his knowledge to problems like clean energy, climate crises, and humanitarian issues. I loved the idea of using physics to help humanity, so I decided to become a physics major when I started college.

What is your favorite part about pursuing this field?
I really just enjoy the information that I learn about reality and the world around me. I love when I’m in class and I am hit with inspiration about how I can apply a physics concept to some other aspect of my life. I like learning about the possibilities of what could theoretically be possible.

Are you currently working on research in your field, and if so, what does your research entail?
I have been working on research as part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which searches for gravitational waves from collisions of objects in space like black holes. I am currently working on searching for the cause of a certain type of glitch that occurs in LIGO’s detectors and can mess up the gravitational wave signals, with the goal of eliminating or reducing it in the detectors. I do this by finding and analyzing each of the occurrences of this glitch to see if I can determine the factors that may be contributing to the cause of the glitch.

What goals have you set for your research?
I have finished my analysis for the occurrences of the Helix glitch in one of LIGO’s two detectors, and I have successfully defended my research proposal for my Honors senior thesis. I also had the opportunity this past March to present this part of my research at the annual American Physical Society meeting in Chicago. By the end of this semester, I plan on having finished the analysis for the glitches in the final detector, and then this spring I will present my findings at the Honors research poster session and symposium.

Have you come across any complications or issues in your research? How have you overcome them?
The only problem that I have encountered was the fact that my research advisor suddenly had to leave at the end of last semester. Thankfully, another physics professor stepped in to help advise me through the end of my research and through the Honors thesis, so everything is working out well!

Do you have any advice for young women who are also interested in studying physics in their future?
If you’re on the fence, you should definitely jump in and just do it. Yes, the problems and the math can be daunting, but the subject is fascinating, the professors and other students are wonderful, and there are some really great opportunities. It’s easy to feel like you don’t know enough, but you actually know more than you think you do, so asking questions is always a good idea. 

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.