MCLA

Wavelength

Research pays dividends for physics major


07/22/2009

When Darsa Donelan '09 (above) of Adams, MA arrives at graduate school this fall to continue her studies in the sciences, she will bring with her myriad research and internship experiences.

Donelan's summer internships included study at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where she did breast cancer research. At the University of Florida, she worked on the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). Donelan also participated in research at this summer's MINERvA (Main Injector Neutrino ExpeRiment v-A) neutrino experiment at Fermilab in Illinois.

Inspired to help the fight against breast cancer after her aunt passed away from the disease in 2006, Donelan worked at Dana Farber with Dr. Karen Anderson in summer 2007 to detect antibodies in patients vaccinated with vaccines made from their own tumor cells. 

"I used the data to find the common antibodies and do bioinformatic research on them.  It was very different than the physics I'm used to, but I wanted to help," she says. 

During the summer of 2008, Donelan worked on the LISA project at the University of Florida. 

"The joint NASA/ESA project is a space-based gravitational wave observatory that will detect gravitational waves from merging super-massive black holes and neutron star binaries," Donelan says. "While I was there we characterized a tunable optical cavity that will be used
for stabilizing the laser. Gravitational waves are predicted by Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, but they have not yet been observed.  Hopefully LISA will detect gravitational waves so that we can prove Einstein was correct."

This summer, Donelan is working with MCLA physics professor Dr. Emily Maher and researchers from colleges and universities around the world at Fermilab to study the neutrino. (To read more about Donelan and Maher's work on this experiment, go to http://www.mcla.edu/news/matterandmotion_133/ )

"Darsa is an amazing student who has really taken advantage of all the resources out there to prepare for graduate school," Maher says.

"My MCLA education means everything to me," says Donelan. "I found a place that I really
fit into.  I enjoyed all the hours I put into homework, studying, and working in the physics lab.  I even enjoyed staying up for three days straight so that I could ace Dr. Adrienne Wootter's physics exams. 

"In the physics and math departments there is not just a student/professor relationship, but students are considered colleagues with our professors," she continued. "I really enjoyed all the classes I've taken at MCLA." 

Donelan came to MCLA from Berkshire Community College, where she earned an Associate's degree in art. At MCLA, she maintained a 4.0 grade point average and graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in math.

She will attend the University of Florida at Gainesville in September to pursue a doctorate in physics.