Hi! My name is Dennis Chen and I am going to be a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School West in Dix Hills. I am very excited about spending the summer here at the Laser Teaching Center. However, how I decided to get into lab research is a long story. As a child, my parents would tell me stories about my two cousins in California. Both of them were finalists in the Intel Competition and both were accepted and given scholarships to Harvard. One of them is now a doctor and the other a researcher. For some reason, I never believed I would make a career out of science. Throughout my high school years, I struggled to determine what career I wanted to pursue. Although I still am not sure, I have indeed developed an intense love of physics that I hope to further in college and through this experience in the Laser Lab. Perhaps I will even become a physicist.

Entering high school, I joined my school research program but never showed much interest in science although I always did well in my classes. After my sophomore year in high school, I became really confused about what I wanted to do career-wise. Failing to find any research opportunities, I decided to spend my summer developing my two passions, golf and piano. I was seriously convinced that I could either become a professional golfer or a concert pianist. Playing golf professionally seemed like a dream job. I imagined spending hours strolling outsided, playing a game I loved for a million dollar prize. The problem is, only a few hundred golfers make it to the PGA Tour every year. Sure I was a decent golfer, good enough to play varsity golf for my school team, but I realized it would take extreme devotion and an immense amount of practice time (and perhaps even moving to Florida where opportunities were greater) to get to a competitive level. Trying to become a professional golfer was impractical and probably not doable.

At the same time, my piano teacher had convinced me to consider becoming a concert pianist. I had been playing for over twelve years by then and was performing some serious college repertoire and playing in piano competitions. The problem was I hated practicing piano. Playing one hour a day was already pretty tiring, trying to practice three hours was just brutal. I realized this through my preparation for an international piano competition when I decided to increase my practice time. Although I saw great improvements in the quality of my music, I dreaded the practice session. By the end of the summer, I realized that not only was I unwilling to take the risk of becoming a professional musician, but I definitely couldn't practice enough to make it.

Going into my junior year, my goals all revolved around improving my resume for college. I focused on getting high grades, doing well on standardized tests, and joining as many extracurricular activities as I could fit into my schedule. I even decided to run for Senior Class President (which I eventually did win, earning a reserved parking spot in the student parking lot!). Furthermore, I believed that conducting research over the summer would surely add to my "appeal" to colleges. Throughout the year, I continually tried to apply to programs and contact local scientists about research opportunities. My lack of research experience really did put me at a disadvantage. After a plethora of rejections, I got an opportunity to work at the Laser Teaching Lab.

Although it seems like everything I was doing during the year was for college, having the opportunity to work in the Laser Lab means a lot more to me. After taking AP Physics B and AP Calculus BC during the school year, I really developed an intense interest in both. Physics seemed to simplify things to the level of equations and constants, an idea that really fascinated me. Out of all the schoolwork I had to do, physics homework was the most fun. I could see the practicality of kinematics and optics problems and the implications of modern physics etc. I was genuinely interested in science for the first time in my life. To further augment my interest, when I visited the Laser Teaching Center, I learned through Dr. Noe's demonstrations that calculus was related very closely to physics. The two subjects that I excelled in and loved were connected to each other, something I had always known but never experienced firsthand.

I am really excited to learn more about physics and to get some hands-on lab experience. Of course I hope to discover something, but that is not my main goal. I know such an experience will be beneficial in ways that I haven't quite predicted yet. It's going to be a fun summer and I'm really looking forward to getting started.

Dennis Chen

Laser Teaching Center