1 July 2008

Raksapol Thananuwong

Nationality: Thai

Raksapol Thananuwong

Raksapol is both reserved and very friendly – a common Thai characteristic. In September, it will be one year since he left his native Bangkok to join, as a research assistant, the Department of Physics at the University of Geneva. This is where he is doing performance studies of the electron triggers to optimize the physics discovery potential. With  his hard work, he is hoping to turn this research into a PhD project in September.

Raksapol did his masters in Physics at the University of Bangkok, after graduating from the University of Michigan in 2000. He started to feel interested in particle physics when he had the opportunity to study the decay of muons into neutrinos. He found it so intriguing that he got drawn into the field and, while still in college, started to get involved in several projects in particle physics. He felt attracted to the activities at CERN right away: “Walking along the corridor of the High Energy Physics building, I saw pictures of giant detectors and accelerators on the walls,” he says. “I started to feel curious and wanted to know what kind of work those large groups of people were doing."

For his research at CERN, he is funded by the Swiss Government through the Federal Commission for Scholarships for Foreign Students (FCS). The grant is offered to post graduates who want to further their education and undertake research in  a field in which Swiss universities are particularly active. The final goal is to give students from developing countries opportunities to be trained in a particular field of expertise so that they can go back to their home countries and play an important role in driving their countries forward. 

Despite all the differences between quiet Geneva and busy Bangkok, Raksapol feels very fortunate to be in the Swiss city: For someone coming from a country like Thailand, famous for his hospitable people, Raksapol appreaciates how open and nice to foreigners Geneva people are. “It is a whole new world, but I like it,” he says. He enjoys the food, the well-preserved nature of Switzerland, and he is particularly fascinated by the very-well organised Swiss society. “I find it intriguing how the society is organised using a trust system. For example, they only randomly ask for tickets on the bus or the train.”

After coming to CERN, an important support for Raksapol in his European physics adventure has been coming from his colleagues at the Department of Physics in Geneva: "Their knowledge and experience on the topics help me get right on track, instead of floundering around and getting overwhelmed by the complexities of such a large collaboration as ATLAS, “ he says.

When the LHC turns on and the experiments start on the discovery road into new physics, Raksapol, like most people, expects to find hints of the Higgs boson, extra dimensions and supersymmetry. As he explains: “I want to be around when CERN starts making discoveries. Everything before is just a theory, and I would like to see how those theories turn into reality. All the physicists around the world have their eyes on the LHC: “It is exciting to be working on frontier physics in the 21st century.”

Despite all the excitement about what is going to happen at CERN soon, he misses his family and his country. He’d like to get back to Thailand once he has accomplished his mission in the western world: start a good career in particle physics. First, getting his PhD and then if possible, spending some time as a postdoc. "My goal for the future would be to set up a research group with students and continue contributing and collaborating  with research groups at CERN. With these scientific activities, I hope to be able to maintain a healthy basic science program in my country,” he says. “But that will all depend on how things work out," he smiles hopefully.


    Cristina Jimenez