Physics prodigy tackles ‘the Big Kahuna’ in research.
by Kristen Weaver Photography by Amy Peterson
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More in Research + Discovery
Topics: Research & Discovery
by Kristen Weaver
Photography by Amy Peterson
Carson Huey-You ’17 plays the piano, speaks Mandarin Chinese, hangs out with friends and researches the resonance energies of quantum mechanical systems.
Like most college students, Huey-You juggled the ultimate balancing act with his undergraduate schedule. And, at 14, Huey-You is the youngest person to graduate from TCU.
“It’s a big step,” said Huey-You, who turns 15 in August. “Going from undergraduate to graduate, going to grad school and getting my Ph.D. … It’s the first big step out of many.”
For two years, Huey-You researched quantum mechanical systems alongside his academic mentor, Magnus Rittby, professor of physics and senior associate dean in the College of Science & Engineering.
For his young student’s final undergraduate project, Rittby created an eight-step problem using research he started in graduate school more than three decades ago. Rittby said the project involved “basic research, aimed to improve our understanding of the mathematical structures underlying our quantum mechanical description of reality.”
“We have a model problem that has been worked on for 30 years by various people,” Rittby said. “We’re looking for certain resonances that people think exist but they haven’t actually been able to calculate.”
Rittby said his 35-year-old research “was controversial since my results went against what one would have expected based on earlier studies. Additionally, another research group published results that did agree with expectation and therefore contradicted my results.”
It’s a big step. Going from undergraduate to graduate, going to grad school and getting my Ph.D. … It’s the first big step out of many.Carson Huey-You '17
Mathematicians, over time, showed that Rittby’s research results were correct while also predicting additional resonances for the same model problem. This prediction became the focus for Huey-You’s research project, which Rittby said was “to pinpoint those energies that [the mathematicians] said are in this general region.”
Electrons can sometimes become trapped and ejected, which Huey-You said are called resonance states. His senior assignment was to figure out how those electrons get trapped by solving the Schrödinger equation and using “tricks” to compile his research in one final code, which he named the Big Kahuna.
“We divided it into eight different steps,” Huey-You said. “We worked each one as its own, and eventually we were able to compile all eight steps into a code in search for that resonance energy.”
The young researcher’s pursuit was like a hunt for a needle in a haystack, as he tried to perfect the code that would enable him to solve the problem of finding the resonances’ precise location. The steps involved equations and methods that built upon each other, some of which took months for Huey-You to complete.
The final step, the Big Kahuna, took nearly a year, Huey-You said. “We were basically taking all seven of the last steps, and that was the step where we tried to compile the whole thing into one code, and that took the year.”
Rittby said one of the best feelings was seeing the emerging researcher reach his “aha” moment in solving an equation as he learned more and more during his undergraduate studies.
“To him, it looks like this weird project,” the professor said. “To me, it looks like a way for him to get direct experience in applying something he’s learning in these different courses into one, kind of weaving it together in the Big Kahuna at the end.”
Huey-You said the result was worth the time.
“When we ran [the code], we could find the resonance energy for the quantum mechanical equation,” he said. “It’s exciting we’re finally learning about things we couldn’t do 30 years ago.
Physics is Huey-You’s passion, but he was unsure of his research focus. “But then I was introduced to quantum physics and then I sort of enjoyed it more than the other types.”
I’m proudest because they’re really good boys. Not just that they’re smart — that’s good, of course. They’re kind and generous and they show empathy for others. … That’s something that will help them in life over so many hurdles.Claretta Kimp, mother of TCU's two youngest students
But studying physics didn’t dominate all of the teenager’s time as an undergraduate. He also pursued minors in math and in Chinese, which he speaks almost fluently.
“I started [studying Chinese] because my great-grandfather was from China. Me and my parents thought it would be an interesting thing to learn Chinese,” Huey-You said. “I liked it. It’s a really useful language.”
Huey-You will attend graduate school in the fall at TCU, with plans to expand his knowledge of quantum physics and possibly explore new research areas. Meanwhile, his younger brother is a member of TCU’s incoming freshman class.
“I’m proudest because they’re really good boys. Not just that they’re smart — that’s good, of course,” said Claretta Kimp, mother of the two students. “They’re kind and generous and they show empathy for others. … That’s something that will help them in life over so many hurdles.”
Kimp moved the family to Fort Worth two years ago to be closer to the university.
“As a parent, you want your children to be happy. Carson has a hunger for knowledge, so this made sense,” Kimp said. “Where else could he be? What else could he do? It’s just the dream. I’m just here to support his dream.”
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