University of the Fraser Valley

UFV Top 40 Alumni: Jennifer Owen — Physics offered her front-row seat in scientific history

UFV Top 40 Alumni: Jennifer Owen — Physics offered her front-row seat in scientific history

Dr. Jennifer (Godfrey) Owen

Dr. Jennifer Owen (nee Godfrey) has been part of scientific history, working at the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland.

She visited and/or worked at the CERN facilities continuously over six years as part of her graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, and was there when the Higgs Boson was discovered, one of the major recent scientific breakthroughs.

She joined more than 3,000 physicists from 166 institutions in 37 countries in her work on the ATLAS project, a particle-detection experiment designed to observe phenomena that involve highly massive particles that might shed light on new theories of particle physics. For part of her time during her doctoral studies she was team leader (aka editor) for one of the analyses.

“It was amazing and very exciting to be right up front at the cutting edge of science with discoveries occurring all around me,” she recalls.

Owen now has her PhD and is currently exploring a career options in medical physics.

“Although I found it both interesting and exciting, I decided to leave particle physics research after completing my PhD in order to establish a career in something new. To that end, I recently began a postdoctoral certificate in radiation oncology through the University of Calgary.”

Geneva and the world of particle physics is a long way from Abbotsford, especially for a young woman who dropped advanced placement physics in Grade 12 because she found it too intimidating.

She didn’t give up on physics entirely, however. She tried again in first year at UFV, taking a course from George McGuire, who was legendary for his ability to inspire students.

“It was George who suggested that I ought to be pursuing physics as a major. It was the kind of encouragement I needed,” she recalls. “Once I got through my first university-level physics course I realized I could do it. I had professors all along the way encouraging me and telling me I was ready for the next level.”

Owen can speak from experience when she compares the UFV environment to that of UBC and SFU: she attended all of them.

“I enjoyed my time at all three universities — they’re all very different. The real advantage of UFV was the small group discussion style of our classes, with a focus on dialogue rather than lecture, and the research opportunities. It was more like grad studies than undergraduate.

“My experience at UFV was very valuable. It helped shape me as a person and a scholar. In our senior classes we worked hard to learn together. We benefited when we all succeeded, so it was more cooperative than competitive. There was a real personal touch to the learning experience.”

The UFV Top 40

 In celebration of its 40th anniversary, the University of the Fraser Valley and the UFV Alumni Association  chose UFV’s Top 40 Alumni.

The list includes alumni who attended in the early days of Fraser Valley College in the 1970s, those who helped plan and shape the new degree programs during the university-college phase, and recent graduates.

More than 260 nominations were received for the Top 40 Alumni after a community-wide appeal. Representatives from the UFV Alumni Association and the university then selected the Top 40 based on a set of criteria that included community contributions, commitment to others, career/professional excellence, leadership, creativity/innovation, and acting with selflessness or courage.

See the whole list here.