‘I couldn’t believe it’: U of W student among just 4 in Canada selected for astroparticle physics internship

While many university students will be taking a break from studying, a University of Winnipeg student recently found out that she will be spending her summer in Kingston, Ont., working on astroparticle physics research.

It will be a departure for Sidney Leggett, who isn’t actually a physicist — she’s studying applied computer science.

But the U of W student, who will graduate this year, learned two weeks ago she is one of just four students in Canada selected for the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astrophysics Research Institute’s 2020 cross-disciplinary internship, which grants non-physics majors $10,000 to conduct astroparticle physics research.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Leggett told Marjorie Dowhos, guest host of CBC Radio’s Up To Speed.

“I had actually completely forgotten about it, to the point where when I got the email, I was so shocked that it actually got approved.”

The first thing she did, she said, was tell her family and boyfriend.

Leggett will work alongside a Queen’s University associate professor from May until August in the field of astroparticle physics.

A government of Canada website describes the field as “the study of the fundamental properties of the building blocks of nature, and their influence on the evolution of structure in the universe.”

The field addresses questions, the website says, that “are considered, worldwide, to be among the most important in physics today.”

According to the University of Winnipeg, Leggett will be part of research focused on streamlining data collection processes of samples previously collected from the area around SNOLAB — an underground science laboratory in Ontario that specializes in neutrino and dark matter physics.

SNOLAB is an underground science laboratory in Ontario that specializes in neutrino and dark matter physics. (SNOLAB)

Leggett says her role will be to use her computer science background to help pinpoint spikes in data that researchers should analyze further.

“Getting this recognition and acceptance has been really exciting,” said Leggett, who is Métis, and adds that as a woman from a visible minority background in a science and technology field, she felt lower confidence during her first few years of university. 

After graduation, Leggett wants to pursue a master’s degree in epidemiology. Then, ideally, she hopes to focus on Indigenous health-related research. She’s recently worked with a number of Indigenous health researchers.

The U of W student says she has always had an interest in celebrating the success of Indigenous youth, so she wants to find a way to address the inequalities Indigenous people face in health care, while also highlighting messages about what is working.

“It’s just a field where I feel like they are making huge differences … including Indigenous communities, and including their voices,” said Leggett.

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