Physics student travels to Russia to work in a nuclear physics laboratory

Student with computer equipment.

Brett Rosiejka, a physics student at UW-La Crosse, got the opportunity of a lifetime last summer when he traveled to Dubna, Russia, to work for a prestigious nuclear physics laboratory. He’s pictured here in his boss’s office where they were testing the PCBs he built.

By UW-L student Breanna Levine

Travelling to a far off place to pursue a passion is something some can only dream of, but in the case of Brett Rosiejka, his dream came true. Rosiejka, a physics student at UW-La Crosse, got the opportunity of a lifetime last summer when he traveled to La Crosse’s sister city of Dubna, Russia, to work for a prestigious nuclear physics laboratory.

With the help of Assistant Professor of physics Shelly Lesher, Rosiejka participated in an international physics program at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. He was the only westerner who was involved.

“Being the only westerner put a lot of pressure on me,” Rosiejka explains. “It felt as though I had to represent the U.S. in every respect because I thought I might be the only American that some of these people might ever meet.”

He says the experience reminded him of the first day at a new school: trying to find someone to sit with at lunch or partner up with in the classroom. Eventually, Rosiejka’s colleagues got to know him and found that he was no different from them.

After he completed the program, Rosiejka continued to work with the group for another month because they were so impressed by his work. The scientists even invited him to work with them again next summer. He is excited to go back, because “utilize[ing] two passions at the same time for a second time is something few people are fortunate enough to do.” He also expresses his gratitude, saying, “Working at a world renowned physics lab is one thing, but working at Russia’s premier lab is an honor.”

Rosiejka got a chance to show off the knowledge he acquired during his time at UW-L, but he also brought skills back home.

“The whole time I was just applying what I had already known,” Rosieka says.  “There were no textbooks or homework, but I learned so much. It’s one thing to study equations and theories, but it is a whole new experience when you are doing the real thing.”

Rosiejka is a dual degree student with UW-L and the University of Minnesota. He studied Russian and was excited to use his language skills while working in his major field of study. He said that his passion for the Russian language started with his grandmother.

“My grandmother’s family is from Russia, so I thought maybe if I studied Russian, she might remember some from when she was younger,” Rosiejka explains. His passion for the language only grew after attending UW-L.

“Fall semester 2011, I started Russian with (Professor) Natalia Valeryevna Roberts. She is the reason why I am so passionate about the language. She pushed me to go beyond the obvious answer and to truly think in a different way,” he says.

Rosiejka’s passion for the Russian language and nuclear physics may have helped him secure an internship at the Joint Institute, but he also had time to have fun. He met up with a friend, a Dubna student who he had met while Russian students were visiting La Crosse. She and her family gave him an inside view of Russian culture he would never forget.

“We went to a dacha, which is like a cabin, and there was a banya, which is essentially a sauna,” Rosiejka says, “The tradition of the banya is to go into the sauna, get beaten with wet birch branches, then have freezing water thrown on you. As torturous as it was, it was oddly relaxing.”

Rosiejka will never forget the experiences he had, and is ready to go back. However, there is one thing he isn’t looking forward to. “Even though the food was one of the best parts, the grocery stores are terrifying.”