Fernanda Goncalves Abrantes

St Cross Clarendon Scholarship

Joining us from: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

DPhil Particle Physics (2020)

This is my first time writing a bio. If you think studying the universe is hard, try talking about yourself! But let’s start, as all things should, from the beginning. 

I was born in a small city called Petrópolis and lived there most of my life until I moved to Rio de Janeiro to take my undergraduate studies in Physics. As a child, I always loved science, felt passionate and intrigued about the universe in its majesty and density of details. I remember often thinking about questions, which at that time I had no idea how deep they were, such as “how did the universe begin?”, “does it have an end?”, “how big is the universe?”, “what is time?”, “what are we made of?”, needless to say, I was a very curious child. That curiosity led me to the path of physics, where I discovered my true passion and for the first time it felt like I found my purpose in life. I realised that I could make contributions to our knowledge as human beings, this idea made me overwhelmed. Unfortunately, after entering the field I shortly noticed that my questions are maybe too hard… that we don’t have an exact answer and perhaps we may never have! But as the physicist Werner Heisenberg said “Not only is the Universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think”. 

During high school, when we usually have our first contact with chemistry and physics, I learned that everything is made of atoms, the smallest entities that bond to form everything we see. Mesmerised, I naturally wanted to understand them in the tiniest details possible and, guess what, they are not the most fundamental particles, they are made of something else! So my journey began to deepen even further. During my undergraduate course in physics I met the field of particle physics, which is now my field of study. Particle physics aims to understand the most elementary particles in the universe, what are these entities and how they interact with each other to form everything. Throughout my undergraduate course I learned a lot about the universe and in 2017 I had one experience that definitely was a landmark in my journey, I got the opportunity to participate in a summer programme at CERN, the current biggest particle physics experiment, where the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the particle accelerator that allows us to study them, is based. Amazed by this experience, I decided to take my masters, also in Brazil, studying the dynamics of a particular process of involving some of these very interesting particles. 

Along the years some of my questions were getting answers but others, more complicated, were rising and leading me to pursue a DPhil. I’ve always chased for big dreams and had huge ambitions therefore a chance to take my DPhil at the worldwide recognised University of Oxford, where experts in my field make really important contributions, would be the most incredible experience in my career and would also make my childhood dream come true. The scholarship from St Cross and Clarendon made my dream possible and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity. Without this financial help I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. I am honoured to be a part of this community and I am having the best time at St Cross.