Physics student in Hawaii for conference

Courtesy of Fatiha Benmokhtar | Hannah Valenty traveled to Hawaii for the American Physics Society conference. She's pictured here in a particle physics lab in Newport News, Va.

Natalie Rodriguez | Staff Writer

While it’s been freezing in Pittsburgh, senior physics student Hannah Valenty has been enjoying the warm weather of Hawaii.

But she’s not there for vacation Valenty is there representing Duquesne at the American Physics Society (APS) conference in Honolulu.

Hannah is one of three seniors majoring in physics at Duquesne’s School of Science and Engineering. She found out about the APS opportunity through her mentor, Dr. Fatiha Benmokhtar.

Benmokhtar is a physics professor at Duquesne. In addition to her work as a professor, she works with hundreds of other scholars at a particle physics lab in Newport News, Va. Benmokhtar has been to many conferences and was able to recommend this experience to Valenty.

Valenty collaborated with other students and professors to research nuclear physics. Her work focused on protons and current and target fragmentation.

“We are studying the proton and what happens to it when you throw in a beam of electrons. A particle jet comes out, but we wanted to check where the particles actually come from,” Benmokhtar said. “Some scholars believe that the electrons just scatter like a pool table, but many disagree and say there has to be something else going on.”

The APS conference lasts from Nov. 27 until Dec. 2 and will consist of speakers and presenters at both the professional and undergraduate levels. Most of the week features discussions, lectures and oral and poster presentations from undergraduates and professionals in the field.

APS events are held annually, but every four years the conference is held in Hawaii and hosts members from the Japanese Physics Society

In preparation for the conference, Valenty worked for hours to gather data and finalize her findings.
“All of my research is remote, and all of it is done on the computer and it consists of analyzing huge data sets with millions and millions of lines of code,” Valenty said.

Her work at Duquesne has also inspired her to consider a career in data analysis.

“I’ve really enjoyed the research that I’ve done with my mentor, and that research led me to come to understand data science,” Valenty said. “In the future, I’ll either be applying for graduate school or a job in data science.”

Benmokhtar described Valenty as a hardworking student who achieves exceptional grades while also balancing a myriad of other tasks.

“Hannah does one thing at a time and is very focused on her studies. She performs well and is always willing to mentor other students,” Benmokhtar said.

Not only has she excelled in the classroom, but Valenty has also found ways to stay involved on campus. In addition to being captain of the rowing team, she is also involved with Duquesne’s Spiritan Campus Ministry, leading weekly Bible study and rosary group.

The Duquesne women’s rowing team has already begun preparing for their winter season. The team typically practices six days a week, but even in paradise, Valenty found time to take advantage of the warm Hawaiian weather to train and condition.

Her diligence and determination do not go unnoticed.

Senior Britta Wheeler is Valenty’s roommate and rowing co-captain.

“Hannah’s work ethic is crazy. As her roommate, I’ve seen her stay up until midnight doing work. Her major is very intensive, including a lot of intense math,” Wheeler said. “Then every morning, she’ll get up and kill it at practice and kill it at lifts.”

Wheeler also described Valenty’s contribution to the team’s environment.

“Everyone describes her as a light on the team,” Wheeler said. “Hannah is the perfect model for novices because she never rowed in high school, started during Covid and didn’t get in a boat for another 2.5 months. She also models the desire to improve and find love in a sport.”

Valenty’s other roommate and friend since freshman year, Sarah Ricketts, also met Valenty through rowing and admires her ability to focus on others in the moment.

“Hannah is definitely the model student athlete. She’s very humble and she could have a million things going on at once, but she always takes the time to focus on rowing and asking people how they are,” Ricketts said.

Valenty uses her experiences at Duquesne to give back to her community and campus life overall.

“I am proud to be a part of a D1 team, practice my faith and still have time to take a deep breath with my friends,” Valenty said.