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New Trier Green forward Garrett Chong blends his three passions: hockey, physics and robotics

By Ross Forman, 04/26/24, 4:00PM CDT


Garrett Chong, a junior left wing for state champion New Trier Green, will likely be one of the most dynamic forwards in the state when his senior season starts in September. The left-handed shooting Chong who formerly played for the Falcons, Chicago Mission, Team Illinois and Reapers had 13 goals and 12 assists in 30 Scholastic Hockey League games this past season.

Chong is a pass-first player, always looking to find the best play or the next pass. “I don’t always look for the openings in the net, but rather, the openings for the pass backdoor,” said Chong, one of three siblings who skate and “the ones who ultimately steered me to play for New Trier.”

His dad, meanwhile, steered his main off-ice passion that, well, never is chatter among his Trevian teammates. They talk slapshots, the perfect celly, how to tally a Michigan Goal, and more.

Chong talks physics.

“I see physics as the absolute frontier of modern science and technology,” he said. “Physics utilizes the pinnacle of technology to probe into the most minute scales, then uses those scales to measure the biggest and most chaotic phenomena in our universe.”

He baffles opposing goalies with his skill on the ice, one of the main reasons Green is already looking for a state three-peat in 2025.

He also baffles with intelligence, which includes a spot on the SHL All-Academic Team.

“My dad is the person who first sparked my love for physics,” Chong said. “He majored in physics for his undergraduate degree, and when I was little, he’d tell me all about his favorite concepts and facts he’s learned throughout his life. Nearly a decade later, I can still remember my dad teaching me about special relativity and quantum entanglement. The amazement I felt knowing that seemingly fantastical things could exist beyond what we could see is what hooked me. I knew that I wanted the ability to see those things for myself one day.”

Sure enough, the skilled forward who celebrated in March with his Green teammates at the United Center was in Indiana during the April solar eclipse – for a physics project.

“Since my freshman year, I’ve been a part of a research group that utilizes cosmic ray detectors provided by Fermilab to do authentic research at a high school level,” he said. “A cosmic ray is any miscellaneous particle flying through space at high speeds, roughly 99 percent the speed of light. We don’t know exactly where they come from, but we know that they are typically protons and come from outside our galaxy. When this high-energy particle enters our atmosphere, it collides with a different particle and explodes. This explosion spits off a plethora of different smaller particles, called elementary particles, in a shower towards the surface of earth. Most of them decay and don’t make it to the surface, but the muon (the overweight cousin of an electron) is uniquely able to reach the ground where our detectors are able to read its signal.”

Chong is engrossed in an intense, multi-phased physics project that started with his group wanting to find the cosmic ray shadow of the moon. “With the moon being as large as it is, we believed that it could block out a sizable amount of cosmic rays in the sky, thus creating a muon shadow,” he said. “We collaborated with two other high schools utilizing five total detectors and aimed them at different angles of the sky to target different parts of the moon’s path.”

After 15 months of data collection, they found a hint of a signal 320 minutes before the moon crossed its meridian, he said. Their results were published during the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) winter meeting, where two of their four publications won second place in an undergraduate competition. Fellow New Trier student Aitak Mozen-Harzandi and Chong were recognized by the New Trier Board of Education for these achievements, and each received two awards.

“For phase 2, we changed our experiment to be able to reverse-calculate the direction that a cosmic ray came from after hitting our detectors. We wanted to use the unique opportunity of the solar eclipse on April 8th to see if we’d find any strange behavior in the muon path,” Chong said. They transported their detectors to a barn in rural southern Indiana to be in the total obscurity path, and they had a two-week data collection period. “We finished our data collection on the day of the eclipse, and data analysis will be taking place over the next several months. We hope to have more findings published in the future,” he said.

Chong and his crew will be analyzing data over the summer.

Also this upcoming summer, he will be engaging in a variety of additional different activities for physics. For instance, he’s enrolled in a residential course at the University of Chicago that will dive deep into astrophysics, relativity, and gravity. He also is taking a Cambridge course on the opposite end of the energy spectrum, focusing more on quantum mechanics.

“What I most look forward to is my opportunity to work with a Northwestern research group at the Center for Fundamental Physics. This group is working on the ARIADNE experiment (Axion Resonant InterAction DetectioN Experiment), which focuses on quantum precision measurement and low-energy physics,” he said. “Their main goal is, hopefully, to discover a new particle and resolve some of the major issues with our current standard model of physics. I’m thrilled at the prospect of getting experience in a university-level laboratory.”

Chong’s off-ice enthusiasm also rolls with robotics, as he is a part of a local community robotics team that participates annually in the First Tech Challenge league. He is in his second year on this team “and it’s been an extremely fulfilling experience to get to collaborate with many like-minded individuals to build a robot and compete in these games,” he said. “Both years we have won the Illinois state championship, but we didn’t qualify to go to the world competition last year. This year, we did, and we competed in Houston April 17-20.

“I primarily specialize in hardware and design,” he said. “The robots can get complicated and intricate, so being able to compartmentalize the robot and fit everything together is extremely important. I really enjoy the problem-solving and creativity that is required of designing the different parts.

“I also am a part of the ‘drive team’ for the world competition. My role is to strategize and direct the driver of the robot during the competition.”

There were about 250 FTC teams from around the world competing in Houston.

Chong said physics, robotics and hockey mesh as all are “team-based activities which rely on collaboration and cooperation to achieve success,” he said. “Each person has to selflessly commit to their role and put the success of the team first.

“I think (physics and robotics) help me view hockey more analytically. I tend to focus more on seeing the plays unfold and how the actions of every player fit together on the ice. I focus on my role, what I do best and appreciate the skills that other players bring.”

Chong has been playing hockey since he was about 4, and many on-ice lessons have helped off too, he said. Such as, resilience, remaining calm under pressure and working with teammates carrying different personalities – all of which are pertinent to the success in physics and robotics.”

Chong is planning to pursue physics/engineering in college, and his dream job would be to work for NASA and help design more advanced spacecraft to help push boundaries even farther into space. “Or, I’d like to join a major research institution and help build and improve quantum computers,” he said. “The concept of a quantum computer is fascinating; I deeply believe that a large part of humanity’s future lies in the development of these kinds of technology.”

Slapshots With New Trier Green forward Garrett Chong

Favorite NHL Team: Washington Capitals
Favorite NHL Player: Nathan Mackinnon
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: Creed III
Favorite Hockey-themed Movie: The Mighty Ducks
Favorite TV Show: Impractical Jokers
Favorite Pre-game Meal: Chipotle – “It’s not the best choice pregame, but it is my favorite.”
Favorite app: Wordscapes
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Peter Higgs, a theoretical physicist who first theorized the existence of the Higgs boson. “Unfortunately, he died (April 8).”
Best Hockey Tip: “Just know your role and identity, and play that to the best of your ability.” – Brett Lebda
Best High School Uniform (other than New Trier): Glenbrook South