I grew up in Springville, Utah, the 11th of 13 children. My family was very religious and very happy, despite living well below the poverty line. I attended the public schools, where I excelled in math and science. I was very shy in school, and most of the time was alone with my own thoughts. Much of that time was spent deriving the equations that I had been taught in my classes, because I wanted to know for myself that they were true. My performance in high school was good enough to earn me several scholarships. These, along with a federal Pell grant, were more than enough to pay for college, which would have been unaffordable otherwise.
I attended college for one year at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and then volunteered to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was sent to Argentina for 2 years, and while there I met Daiana Insfrán, whom I married one year after returning home. After the mission, I continued my studies, performing research in the relativistic three-body problem and FJRW mirror symmetry. I graduated with a double major in physics and mathematics.
I continued to study physics in graduate school at the University of California, Davis, initially intent on doing purely theoretical work. As I became more aware of the grim employment prospects for theoretical physicists, I became concerned for the well-being of my wife and infant son and decided to switch to experimental work. Eventually, I found Professor Calderón, whose research on the quark-gluon plasma was very interesting, as it seemed to be a combination of particle physics, condensed matter physics, quantum chromo-dynamics and cosmology.