Ryan Badman ’13 likes to know how things really work. It may have started when his grandfather, an electrician, gave him a book on electronics when he was a kid, or when his father, Lee, an information technology analyst at SU and a ham radio operator, introduced him to radio waves. “My dad was always building antennas and stuff, and he made me get my ham radio license when I was 12,” Badman recalls. Intrigued by the physics of waves, he was drawn to fundamental questions and scientific revelation. While other kids were reading about Harry Potter, Badman was reading about string theory, holographic universes, and dark energy.
Despite an interest in world history and a knack for playing the accordion, it was inevitable he would study physics and math. Badman, who grew up in nearby Jordan, came to Syracuse University on a prestigious Coronat Scholarship, the highest award presented by the College of Arts and Sciences. A Renée Crown University Honors student, he has worked with SU physicists investigating dark matter, electron clouds, and fundamental particles, and co-authored several scientific papers. This summer, he will work at the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s foremost particle accelerator, at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland. He was recently named a 2011-12 Astronaut Scholar, one of 26 science and engineering students nationwide honored for exceptional performance, daring, creativity, and a desire to positively change the world. Badman seems to take the accumulating honors in stride. “It looks good on your résumé, and for getting into grad school,” he says.
Badman plans to pursue a Ph.D. degree in particle physics, with the goal of working at a university or a national lab where scientists are discovering—or creating—revolutionary physics. “It’s a really fun job, you get a lot of cool things to play with, like computers, instruments, and particle colliders, and you meet a lot of crazy, creative, interesting people,” he says. “I like trying to figure out how the universe works, on a really fundamental level. There’s this whole other world we can’t actually see that’s behind everything going on, and we understand maybe 4 percent of it, and not fully all of that. There is a lot going on back there that we know nothing about.”
Badman expects to spend the next few decades exploring that topic. Meanwhile, he’ll continue tutoring Somali refugees, applying for scholarships with names like Rhodes and Gates, learning Mandarin (there’s a large particle collider in Beijing), and playing the accordion and bagpipes (to the chagrin of fellow residents of Haven Hall). He also encourages his younger brother, Tom, a first-year SU student, to pursue jobs in physics labs rather than dining halls, which Badman has done during summers and the school year since he was in high school. “Research jobs are a lot more fun than washing dishes,” he says. “Whether you do it for credit or pay, you’re learning all the time—sometimes more than you learn in class—because it’s just you and the professor. Yeah, you’re working, but it’s stuff I would probably do for free.” —Jim Reilly
Photo by Steve Sartori