Using physics skills to curb crime
Police departments are constantly evolving thanks to technological advancements. This evolution creates many opportunities for new positions.
One opportunity became available to MSUM senior Lucas Clark Burnette. With his double major in physics and engineering-physics, Lucas joined the Moorhead Police Department as a data analyst intern during his last semester of college.
Police Chief Shannon Monroe recommended the position to Lucas. He says internships like this are great for physics students. The department works continuously with local college faculty to evolve the position and its duties.
Throughout his internship, Lucas interpreted information and analyzed crime rates across Moorhead neighborhoods in order to pinpoint where certain types of crime happen at higher rates. He then generated monthly analysis reports to give to the department. The department then uses that data to help decide where to work proactively in crime prevention efforts.
This internship allowed Lucas to grow his capabilities in a real-world job setting while also aiding the local department. Crime analysis positively impacts community policing by providing data to help guide policy and decision-making.
Lucas noticed the skills he learned in a classroom setting were essential to his work at the station.
“In a physics writing intensive class, you write reports and format graphs in ways that are easily understandable to others,” Lucas says. “In data analysis, you’re looking at this data for hours on end, but when you put it on someone's desk, they don’t have the same understanding of it."
He learned small but important things in his work, such as limiting jargon and becoming acquainted with Excel spreadsheets.
Besides getting involved with job opportunities, Lucas also involved himself in numerous organizations throughout his time on campus. He was a member of the American Indian Student Association (AISA), the MSUM Society of Physics Students chapter (SPS) and even Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honors society.
He also became a voice of guidance, becoming a member of the student advisory board for the College of Science, Health and the Environment on campus. He represented the student body in the physics & astronomy program and brought their ideas and suggestions to administration.
As an upperclassman, Lucas became a lab assistant guiding younger students in the program. He enjoys helping others learn.
“I found it very fun to help students grasp something and explain ideas in a way that would make sense to them," Lucas says.
He also has experience conducting field research. While in a summer research program at the University of Nebraska, Lucas participated in a project working on electron ghost imaging - a technique that produces an image of an object by combining information from light detectors. He was one of three undergraduates that helped along with several graduate students led by a professor.
“I enjoy sitting down and working on a challenge,” Lucas says. “There’s no telling what you are going to be doing, but I love working towards a solution.”
Lucas plans to attend the University of Minnesota for a Master’s in civil engineering.
Lucas’ experience at the police station helped him realize nontraditional work can leverage his skills to make a difference. His ability to try new things has broadened his worldview to exciting opportunities in the future.
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