Kennesaw State physics major to spend summer at CERN

KENNESAW, Ga. | May 28, 2024

Casey Hampson
Growing up with an interest in space exploration, Casey Hampson knew physics would take him a long way.

The Kennesaw State University rising junior has fulfilled that promise, accepting a research opportunity this summer at CERN in Switzerland, one of 15 students from the United States.

“I’m really quite astonished I made it in,” Hampson said. “Being around all those really smart people, studying all those amazing things at that level of physics, and doing a good bit of traveling—I can’t wait.”

Funded by the National Science Foundation’s Research Opportunities for Undergraduates, the program originates at the University of Michigan. Normally, CERN’s summer research opportunities aren’t open to Americans, but Michigan has an arrangement to send 15 American college students to CERN each summer. Assistant professor of physics Andreas Papaefstathiou emailed Hampson a flyer for the program, and he applied.

CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research and houses the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), among other facilities. Kennesaw State has three professors who study theoretical particle physics and work on projects closely related to the CERN LHC.

Hampson took an introductory physics course from KSU associate professor of physics Marco Guzzi as a first-semester freshman. Guzzi, who is an affiliated particle theorist of the CMS collaboration at the CERN LHC, said he touches on his research in particle physics for these students, partially to show the applications and partly to see if students are interested enough in the material to get involved into research. He found an apt pupil in Hampson.

“It is important to capture students’ interest right from the start, and I talk about my research in those lower-level physics classes to do that,” Guzzi said. “Casey got interested very soon after I started to discuss fundamental interactions in nature and the possibility for students to study these topics in my directed methods class. He made a very good impression on me. Most importantly, he showed a lot of interest since the beginning in particle physics, as he is skilled, curious, motivated and driven. These are important qualities for a scientist.”

In addition to this summer’s research opportunity, Hampson presented a poster at the Symposium of Student Scholars in the fall, working with a group of engineering students on a project regarding machine learning in the game Minecraft. He has also made the president’s list in all four of his semesters at KSU so far.

Hampson’s love for physics and learning started at Sprayberry High School in a STEM-focused secondary education program, a love he has brought with him to KSU. Once on campus, he found a home in the Guzzi research group with access to the expertise he sought and a community of like-minded people.

“The physics department at KSU is amazing,” he said. “It's a small department so you get a lot more of a personalized experience, like you work with a professor almost directly and you learn so much that way. It’s a great place here, and I wouldn't have been able to have this opportunity to go to CERN otherwise.”

With two more years of undergraduate studies ahead, Hampson hasn’t thought a great deal about the future, but physics will be a part of it. He said he looks forward to learning even more about the world we live in—and beyond.

“I want to know all the nitty gritty details of how the universe works, and being able to explore that and work with these beautiful mathematical equations that do exactly that is just so fascinating to me,” he said. “That's what really gets me in there.”

– Story by Dave Shelles

Photos by Darnell Wilburn

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit