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Sean Brennan: Physicist on the Slopes

Sean Brennan on the slopes SSRL’s Sean Brennan will spend a healthy chunk of his winter looking at the effects of particles moving at high speeds in very cold environments. Meanwhile, he will try to counteract negative effects garnered from the loss of control over moving bodies. And he hopes to do it all on a fresh layer of powder.

At least 14 days a year, Brennan straps on a pair of Atomic skis and a red jacket to troll for crashing skiers and boarders as a ski patroller at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort near North Lake Tahoe.

“For me, recreation should involve totally focusing on something other than my work,” he said. “It’s very difficult to be responding to a wreck and be thinking about physics.”

A wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Brennan’s job is to respond to accidents, administer first aid and transport victims down the hill. Brennan said there are some similarities between picking up wayward photons for a microprobe and picking up wayward skiers.

“I am predisposed to helping people. Half my job here is helping people,” he said of his work at SLAC. “It’s extremely satisfying to be able to help people in need on the slopes as well.”

According to Brennan, one of the trickiest parts of the job is learning to use the rescue toboggans. “That transportation challenge is non-trivial,” he said.

Brennan is not the only Stanford employee on the slopes. Medical research professor Brian Hargreaves is a patroller for Sugar Bowl, as is Anneli Munkholm, one of Brennan's former students.

When asked how he balances the time pressures of physics and ski patrol Brennan says he has no kids, flexibility in his work, and an understanding wife who doesn’t mind the free ski pass.

--Erik Vance
  SLAC Today, March 1, 2006