“I’ve basically known that I want to do physics for probably a decade now,” said Cady van Assendelft, a senior intensive physics major at Yale. In her junior year of high school, she had an influential physics teacher who made her feel like a scientist even when doing problems in class. A modern physics class in her senior year solidified her love for physics, research, and experimentation. Since then, van Assendelft has thrived in the Yale Department of Physics, serving as the president of Yale’s Society of Physics Students (SPS), and winning SPS’s Kirsten R. Lorentzen Award for an “exceptionally well-rounded student who excels inside and outside their studies.”
During her first-year at Yale, alongside introductory courses, Cady took the notoriously tedious introductory physics laboratory courses, finding them rather fun. In the winter, she attended the American Physical Society’s Undergraduate Conference for Women in Physics, where she met upperclassmen physics majors, enjoyed talks about research and being a woman in STEM, and affirmed her interest in physics. “It was a clicking point,” she recalled, “I realized that there is a community here that I feel like I could fit in with.”
Van Assendelft looks fondly back at Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics, another tough class in the physics major, and the bonds it facilitated. “The senior physics class is pretty close and we’re all really good friends, and I think it’s because so many of us went through that class together,” she reflected. “We would stay up so late doing problem sets together, but it was really a bonding experience.”
She also cites professor Sarah Demers, the faculty advisor for Yale’s Women in Physics club, for helping her find a research group and shaping her growing interests. As a sophomore, van Assendelft worked with professor David Moore on his levitated microspheres experiment, giving her an engaging introduction to experimental physics research.
The following summer, professor Reina Maruyama offered her a position to work at HAYSTAC, a detector for a dark matter particle called an axion. “Working on HAYSTAC for almost a year has definitely solidified that I love getting to build stuff and working in a small experimental group,” she elaborated.
Van Assendelft joined HAYSTAC just as it was preparing for its second phase, so she spent that summer prototyping parts like a new pulley system to redirect lines in the fridge and various parts for the magnet shielding. She loved working on a tabletop sized experiment, both because she felt she could more clearly visualize its physics and because she could see her impact. The lab also features a crane that lifts HAYSTAC’s magnet. “It’s terrifying to see your entire experiment being hoisted into the air and then lowered back onto a magnet,” she said. Van Assendelft has continued working on HAYSTAC throughout her senior year.
Outside of the lab, van Assendelft has also been on the Yale Climbing Team since her first year. While she had climbed on occasion before coming to Yale, she loves the outdoors and quickly grew to enjoy both climbing competitions and spending time with the team. One of her favorite Yale memories is bonding with the climbing team on a spring break trip to the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Another time, she cut her hand open on a road trip to Alaska with one of the upperclassmen from the team.
When asked what advice she would give to underclassmen, she said, “Befriend upperclassmen! They can give such good advice and be lots of fun to hang out with. And don’t worry about having things figured out.” After graduating in May, van Assendelft will be going to graduate school for physics, following the path to her dream of being a trailblazing experimental physicist.