AU alum earns doctorate in high-energy particle physics

Wed, 2012-12-05 08:22 -- univcomm
Denver Whittington
December 5, 2012

When Denver Whittington, a 2004 Anderson University alumnus, graduated from high school, he planned to stay close to his hometown of Anderson, Ind., but did not know where his degree from AU would take him.

“As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a physicist of some kind,” Whittington said.

Whittington is a member of the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider located at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and collaborates with members of the D-Zero experiment at Fermilab’s Tevatron collider. He is currently teaching at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., where he recently earned his doctorate in high-energy particle physics.

“We have followed Denver's academic and professional career with interest and are excited to celebrate his successes in his field,” said Ben Davis, director of alumni relations at AU. “He is one of several alumni working in STEM areas [Science, Technology, Engineering, Math] who have experienced major breakthroughs in research and educational achievement.”

While at AU, Whittington majored in both physics and mathematics. He had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant during his time at AU, helping students during science labs. Although he only assisted professors during this time, Whittington knew from that point that teaching was something he wanted to do.

Today, Whittington is a professor at Indiana University and teaches a class entitled “How Things Work,” an introductory physics class for students who are not physics majors. In addition, Whittington operates a blog called OutlierBlog: Emanations from the Mind of a Science Geek, which students can use as a resource for his class.

After taking a particularly interesting history class with Dr. Brian Dirck, Whittington knew he wanted to add a minor in history. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a liberal arts education,” said Whittington, highlighting that Dirck taught him things he may not have learned if he had been focused only on his science and math classes.

Science and math classes were instrumental in Whittington’s career. He worked closely with now-retired Chemistry and Physics Department chair Dr. Dale Bales and participated in undergraduate research. Once, Whittington and Bales used an old satellite dish to create a radio telescope.

Whittington enjoys helping students succeed the way Bales did for him; he passed all parts of the doctoral qualifying exam on the first try, a feat not many can claim. Just two years after graduating from AU, Whittington became a member of the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, where he lived for two years. ATLAS is one of the largest experiments in the world, involving more than 3,500 scientists.

Very few universities can claim alumni who have worked with the Large Hadron Collider, one of the most intricate and intellectually demanding physics projects in the world. As director of alumni relations, Davis is proud to tell AU community members about Whittington’s journey. “AU thrives on the accomplishments of our graduates like Denver, who demonstrate that this is a place where you receive first-rate academic preparation, no matter what you are studying,” he said.

— Courtney Hoyle is a senior from Munster, Ind., majoring in marketing and minoring in public relations. Hoyle is an associate with Fifth Street Communications®, writing on behalf of the Anderson University Office of University Communications.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.