Searching for the secrets of the universe

Staff Reporter

PALMER RAPIDS – Where did we come from? What is the universe made of?
These questions and others like them, posed by many five-year-olds, are questions physicist Rodger Mantifel tackles every day.

The 32-year-old Palmer Rapids native’s quest for answers has taken him to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research and the largest particle physics laboratory in the world.

He works with a gigantic scientific instrument located near Geneva, where it spans the border between Switzerland and France about 100 metres underground.

It is a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles – the fundamental building blocks of all things.

The accelerator smashes beams of protons-sub-atomic particles together at near the speed of light 99.9 velocity, recreating the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

Scientists then look at the result of these collisions – what they hope to discover is called the Higgs boson, also referred to as the God particle – the key to understanding the universe.

CERN is a long way from his home town of Palmer Rapids, where he attended public school before entering Madawaska Valley District High School (MVDHS) in Barry’s Bay.

“I had a science teacher, a physics teacher that inspired me,” he said. “I remember the last day of my high school career when he posed a question to the class saying, ‘If anyone goes on to discover physics and finds the answer come back and tell me.’ He was someone who wanted us to go out there and explore.”

That teacher was Doug DeLaMatter. He taught chemistry, physics and biology for 30 years and he recalled Mantifel in an interview with the Gazette last week.

“He was one of a set of careful thinkers. When he did give the answer, it was thought through,” he said.

DeLaMatter was surprised to hear Mantifel was now at CERN.

“He is the second student I’ve heard is working in physics,” DeLaMatter stated.

The second, an earlier graduate of MVDHS is Patricia Burchat. She is a physics professor at Stanford University in California and also department chair. She shares a passion for physics with Mantifel and is involved with similar research.

Story continues in the April 5, 2012 issue of The Valley Gazette.