Kennesaw State physics student looks to turn NASA internship into a full-time opportunity

KENNESAW, Ga. | Mar 1, 2023

Kennesaw State University junior Christopher Woolford spends a lot of time hunched over a laptop at his apartment, in one of the common spaces on the Marietta Campus or in the laboratory of associate professor of physics David Joffe.

Christopher Woolford
Christopher Woolford

It’s all physics all the time for the junior, between his coursework, research in the Joffe lab and virtual internships with both NASA’s Glenn Research Center and the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Laboratory (Fermilab). And it’s the life he has wanted since developing a love of physics in high school.

“This is why I’m at Kennesaw State,” he said. “When I came to campus, I was given the opportunity to just go, go, go. I'm here. Let's do this. And so, I jumped right into studying physics and gaining experience.”

Upon arriving at KSU, Woolford joined the Undergraduate Research Club and found Joffe’s particle physics laboratory. Two years later, he’s been a mainstay in Joffe’s lab, and his research led him to a virtual internship last summer with Fermilab in Illinois and in the fall with NASA, where in both instances he wrote computer programs the labs use to model physical systems. 

Joffe said Woolford’s experience in high school enabled him to hit the ground running in the lab.

“Students usually start in my research group in their sophomore year, but once every few years a very enthusiastic and self-motivated student like Christopher will start in their freshman year,” Joffe said. “His passion for physics comes through in everything he does, and he’s an asset to everything we do.”

A KSU faculty member since 2011, Joffe has worked with Fermilab for over 20 years and NASA for nearly 10 years and has helped students obtain internship experience in both entities. He participates in a project at Fermilab called EMPHATIC, which is currently Woolford’s main responsibility within the Joffe lab.

“My time in Dr. Joffe’s lab has improved my base of knowledge in programming, which is increasingly important in physics,” Woolford said. “I’ve gotten all these opportunities to learn how to understand and write computer programs, and I know I can handle anything I might experience in the workplace.”

Eventually, Woolford has his sights set on a research career in the government. Woolford said he is looking to explore future opportunities with NASA and other government agencies. A master’s or doctoral degree could happen as well. 

Woolford says that the best advice he could give to other students is to seek out and take advantage of the opportunities KSU has to offer. 

“I'd really encourage anyone at KSU to look at these kinds of opportunities, like internships and research,” he said. “Before college, nobody told me about undergraduate research. I had to figure it out for myself and do tons of reading and look into it, so the biggest takeaway is to look into those kinds of things and to pursue whatever looks interesting to you.”

– Dave Shelles
Photos by Darnell Wilburn

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