Tag Archives: Physics

Andy Baxter Selected as a Finalist for Mitchell Scholarship

Andy Baxter '16, Mitchell Finalist
Andy Baxter ’16, Mitchell Finalist. Photo credit: Carol Clayton

LAUNCH: National Fellowships congratulates Andy Baxter ’16, a physics and mathematics double major with a business administration minor, on his selection as a finalist for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship. The Mitchell scholarship funds graduate study at any university in Ireland, and only twenty students nationally are chosen as finalists. Andy, who is a senior University Honors and Honors in Mathematics student, underwent an extensive application process at A&M in order to obtain the campus’s nomination for this National Fellowship.

In late November, Andy flew to Washington, D.C. for his finalist interview and reception, having previously succeeded in a semifinalist interview via Skype. He recounts the experience in his own words:

“The US-Ireland Alliance hosted me in the elegant DuPont Circle Hotel and treated us to a wonderful weekend. The evening before my interview, I had the privilege to attend a reception at the Irish Embassy in Washington, D.C. This reception was the best part of the process since I was able to meet former classes of Mitchell Scholars, some of the selection panel, and friends of the program. Serena and Trina, the directors of the Mitchell Scholarship, helped connect me to people working in my field so that they could provide me with advice for the future. During the reception, I also met the other finalists. Even though we had plenty of hors d’oeuvres at the reception, the group of finalists attended dinner at a nearby Irish restaurant. This allowed me to really get to know the other finalists. Throughout the process, Serena and Trina continually told the finalists that we were all qualified to be Mitchell Scholars, and the decision at that point was completely subjective. By having dinner with the other finalists, I truly discovered the truth behind this statement.

The day of the interview actually proceeded very slowly. My interview time was at 2:30 PM, so I was free until 2:00 PM when I had to have my picture taken. Even the process of selecting a portrait made me feel special as the photographer was extremely friendly and helpful. In the interview, I was seated at the head of an 11 person table. Serena and Trina sat closest to me, but they did not participate in the interview or selection. Although the interview is typically a very casual conversation, almost as if at a dinner party, one of my interviewers turned the conversation to politics and religion. Another interviewer humorously noted after about five minutes of discussion, “Those are the two topics you should never discuss at a dinner party.” Perhaps the divisive nature of this issue worked against me in the selection, but the selection panel takes so many other factors into account, including the collective dynamic of the 12 Mitchell Scholars, that this may not have even affected the selection.”

Among the notables present at the embassy reception were Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and representatives from BioMarin Pharmaceutical, the Department of Justice, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, and Palantir Technologies. Although not selected as a Mitchell Scholar, Andy considers the finalists’ weekend “an amazing opportunity to meet incredible people, see an amazing city and learn a lot more about Ireland.”

Andy and the LAUNCH office extend their thanks to the Association of Former Students for its generous support of fellowship candidates’ travel to interviews.

For more information about applying to nationally competitive scholarships, please visit http://natlfellows.tamu.edu/National-Fellowships/About-National-Fellowships. The campus nomination process for the next round of Mitchell scholarships will take place in late Spring 2016.

Five Aggies Nominated for Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell Scholarships

LAUNCH: National Fellowships congratulates our five 2015 nominees for the Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Scholarships for post-graduate study!

Each of these applicants has devoted time to self-reflection and goal development as they revised their essays, requested letters of recommendation, and poured over detailed application instructions. We are equally proud of their perseverance in the fellowship process and of their outstanding accomplishments throughout their college careers.

2015 Marshall Nominee Mariah Bastin '14
2015 Marshall Nominee Mariah Bastin ’14

Mariah Bastin ’14, who double-majored in German and international studies – politics and diplomacy, has been nominated for the Marshall Scholarship and hopes to obtain a PhD in International Relations. She graduated Magna Cum Laude in 2013 with Honors Fellows and Undergraduate Research Scholars distinctions, as well as National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Phi Eta Sigma National Society, Phi Beta Kappa and Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi honors cords. In 2015, Mariah graduated from the George Bush School of Government & Public Service with a Master of International Affairs. She received the Dean’s Certificate in Leadership. She also served as the President of the German Club and was elected as an International Affairs Representative for the Class of 2015. Fluent in German and French, Mariah has previously worked on the Military Staff Committee of the US Mission to the United Nations and as a German instructor for the Bush School. She is currently employed as an editorial fellow by GovLoop in Washington DC.

2015 Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Nominee Andy Baxter '16
2015 Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Nominee Andy Baxter ’16

Andy Baxter ’16, a Physics and mathematics double major with a business administration minor, has been nominated for the Rhodes, Marshall, and Mitchell Scholarships. He hopes to combine a business education with studies in aerospace physics and engineering in preparation for a management career in aerospace innovation. Additionally, if selected for a scholarship at the University of Oxford, Andy plans to join the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics to apply his studies in physics and business to his Christian faith. Andy’s primary involvement at Texas A&M has been through Freshmen Leaders in Christ, in which he served as a director. He has also been a Muster Host for the past two years, founded a discussion group for Christian physicists, served as an Impact counselor, assisted with a “Five for Yell” campaign, played in many intramural sports, and is currently serving as treasurer for the Society of Physics Students. During his summers as a college student, Andy has participated in research on superconducting magnets at the Texas A&M Accelerator Research Laboratory, studied abroad through the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program, and interned at the IT Alliance for Public Sector in Washington DC through the Texas A&M Public Policy Internship Program.

2015 Rhodes Nominee Hunter Hampton '16
2015 Rhodes Nominee Hunter Hampton ’16

Hunter Hampton ’16, seeking degrees in economics and international studies, with a minor in German, has been nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship with the goal of studying international relations at Oxford University. Hunter is a University Scholar, an Undergraduate Research Scholar, and a member of the Cornerstone Liberal Arts Honors Program, University Honors, and Phi Beta Kappa. As a junior, Hunter wrote his undergraduate thesis on entrepreneurship and conflict resolution in Palestine, and now as a senior, he works in the A&M Economics Research Laboratory on a project about the effects of mandated volunteering on total volunteering. Along with his academic pursuits, Hunter interned at the Institut für Europäische Politik in Berlin, Germany, and spent three years as a member of the Student Conference on National Affairs (SCONA), rising to Chief of Staff in his final year. Outside of academics, Hunter enjoys biking, playing the erhu poorly, and drinking copious amounts of coffee.

2015 Marshall Nominee Molly Huff '16
2015 Marshall Nominee Molly Huff ’16

Molly Huff ’16, a Chemistry major with a minor in mathematics, has been nominated for the Marshall Scholarship to pursue a Masters of Philosophy in chemistry at a UK university. She is an active undergraduate researcher, working in the Polymer Nanocomposites Laboratory for two years and presenting her two publications at an American Chemical Society national conference. Currently, Molly is writing an Undergraduate Research Scholar thesis in physical organic chemistry, studying heavy-atom tunneling both experimentally and computationally. This summer, she completed an internship at OXEA in Bay City where she worked on research and development of a new homogeneous catalyst for the plant. She has also been actively involved in Aggie Sisters for Christ and as a tutor for all levels of chemistry courses. Molly has traveled around the world and hopes to one day live in a foreign country to enhance global chemistry research.

2015 Rhodes and Marshall Nominee Annie Melton '16
2015 Rhodes and Marshall Nominee Annie Melton ’16

Annie Melton ‘16, an anthropology and classics double major with a minor in geoinformatics, has been nominated for the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. Annie, a University Scholar and Undergraduate Research Ambassador, has been heavily involved in archaeological research, beginning her freshman year in the research lab of Dr. Mike Waters. Several of these projects, including her senior honors thesis under the direction of Dr. Kelly Graf, were presented at national and regional conferences. Annie has taken part in archaeological projects in Alaska, Israel, and Portugal, while also analyzing stone tool assemblages from sites in Kentucky and Tennessee, all of which date to differing time periods in the archaeological record. Following graduate school, where she will pursue a PhD in archaeology and focus on the emergence of early modern humans, she hopes to pursue a career in which she can juggle her research passions while teaching the next generation of archaeologists.

The Rhodes Scholarship is for graduate study at Oxford University, the Marshall Scholarship is for graduate study at any UK university, and the George J. Mitchell Scholarship is for graduate study at any university in Ireland. Nominees will soon be notified whether they have been chosen to advance to the interview round of selection. We wish them the best of luck!

LAUNCH: National Fellowships is grateful to the Association of Former Students for their generous support, which applicants benefit from through our programs as well as support for travel to interviews.

Back to the Future Day 2015

On Wednesday, October 21, 2015, the University Honors Program celebrated Back to the Future Day with a special Brown-bag discussion, a costume contest, and free tickets to a screening of the trilogy.

Our activities were part of a worldwide celebration marking the date in which Doc Brown and Marty McFly arrive in the future  in the second film.

Our brown-bag discussion was kicked off by Dr.  Rich Cooper, a science fiction scholar and Lecturer in the Department of English, who described how the Back to the Future films relate to established sci-fi themes such as the promise of technological innovation for progress. Dr. Cooper posed the question: will we lose interest in the film now that we’ve arrived in “the future” and seen some of the predictions come true while others have not? He also described how film and books can help drive technological development by providing a vision for the future, as was the case with William Gibson’s Neuromancer and its influence on the development of the Internet. The conclusion of Dr. Cooper’s discussion was that films like Back to the Future retain interest because of what we can learn about ourselves and the milieu that produced them.

We have not left Back to the Future behind." - Dr. Rich Cooper
We have not left Back to the Future behind.” – Dr. Rich Cooper

Dr. Nick Suntzeff, Mitchell/Munnerlyn/Heep Professor of Observational Astronomy
Astronomy – Astrophysics, provided a scientific perspective on time travel to complement the cultural perspective presented by Dr. Cooper. Dr. Suntzeff began by responding to the discussion about the proliferation of technology with a caution that it will only be a matter of time before an electromagnetic pulse from the sun would wipe out most electronics. “Nature always wins,” he said.

Dr. Suntzeff addresses the cultural stereotype of scientists.
Dr. Suntzeff addresses the cultural stereotype of scientists.

Dr. Suntzeff went on to describe the relative freedom we have to move in three dimensions (up/down, forward/backward, left/right) but that we are not free to move the same way in time. Referencing the concept of time as an illusion, Dr. Suntzeff described that if a clock were to fall into a black hole, someone from the outside would perceive that the ticking of the clock slowed to a standstill, while from the perspective of the clock, the entire history of the universe would be visible at once. Dr. Suntzeff briefly discussed wormholes and how they might operate, noting that mathematics says they should be possible, but we don’t have any way to build the structures that would be required to make them work.

Dr. Suntzeff closed his discussion by noting that much of theoretical math and physics operates this way, but occasionally the theories produce practical technologies, such as how wi-fi was developed from Stephen Hawking’s development of radio telescopes. In in this way, theory and fiction seem to be operating in similar ways to prompt humankind to dream of new possibilities.

Later in the day, students had the opportunity to win tickets to a marathon screening of the Back to the Future films by dressing in a costume inspired by the film.  There was even a DeLorean at the theatre for a great photo-op!

Collage of images from BTTF2015
Collage of images from BTTF2015

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Those who have interest in the overlap between theoretical physics and philosophy should note that Sean Carroll, author of From Eternity to Here: The Quest for an Ultimate Theory of Time will be at Texas A&M in April 2016 presenting as part of the TAMU Physics Festival.

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The University Honors Program is fortunate to have the support of the Association of Former Students to provide culturally-engaging and intellectually-enriching experiences like Back to the Future day!

Thirteen Aggies chosen as National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows for 2013!

By Hayley Cox

photoThe National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) supports outstanding graduate students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics and pursuing research-based Masters and Doctoral degrees. This program reinforces diversity in these fields and encourages fellowship applications from minority groups such as women, racial minorities and the disabled. 2012 marked the GRFP’s 60th anniversary.

Over 13,000 applications were submitted for the 2013 National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellowship competition, resulting in 2,000 award offers. This spring, 13 former Texas A&M University students were selected as 2013 NSF graduate fellows, while 16 were named honorable mentions. Of these students, 12 had previously completed an undergraduate research thesis at Texas A&M as either an Undergraduate Research Scholar or University Undergraduate Research Fellow.

2013 NSF Graduate Fellow Daniel Freeman graduated from Texas A&M University in 2012 with a Bachelors of Science in both mathematics and physics. While at Texas A&M, Freeman had two major research focuses—molecular beam experiments in the chemistry department and cosmology research in the physics department. His work on the molecule chlorine oxide (ClO) was published in the journal Chemical Physics. Freeman graduated as an Undergraduate Research Scholar, receiving the award for Best Research Scholars Thesis in 2012.

Daniel Freeman - NSF Fellow - Chemistry
Daniel Freeman – NSF Fellow – Chemistry
The 2013 NSF Graduate Fellow said, “The NSF fellowship essentially frees me to pursue what I’d like to as a graduate student, which is intellectually liberating.” Freeman said, “I can steer the course of my studies with more freedom than is afforded to many. I greatly appreciate the opportunity.”

Freeman currently attends the University of California at Berkeley where he has completed his first year as a graduate student research assistant interested in the field of Quantum Information Science.

2013 NSF Graduate Fellow Jennifer Bryson graduated from Texas A&M University with University and Mathematics Honors with a degree in mathematics and minors in physics and electrical engineering. During her undergraduate career, Bryson participated in internships with the Department of Defense as well as Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in number theory at Emory University. She was also a dedicated player for and captain of the Texas A&M Women’s Water Polo team.

Jennifer Bryson - NSF Fellow - Mathematical Sciences
Jennifer Bryson – NSF Fellow – Mathematical Sciences
Bryson said, “Texas A&M has been the most amazing undergraduate experience for me, supplying an endless amount of incredible opportunities. I owe a ton to this university and the numerous faculty and staff members who have helped me so much along the way.” She said, “A&M is truly a special place. I’m so thrilled to have more time at the place I love so much!”

Bryson is currently enjoying her summer working on the East Coast on a math research project, and she will be continuing on at Texas A&M in the fall to begin her PhD in mathematics.

The Honors and Undergraduate Research Department (HUR) would like to congratulate the 2013 National Science Foundation Fellows and Honorable Mentions!

Fellows:

Kaila Morgen Bertsch – Materials Sciences

Jennifer Anne Bryson – Mathematical Sciences

Cynthia Marie Castro – Civil Engineering

Jory London Denny – Computer Science

Christian Daniel Freeman – Chemistry

Kim Lani Gonzalez – Cell Biology

Bagrat Grigoryan – Biomedical Engineering

Candice Marie Haase – Biomedical Engineering

Richard Joseph Hendrick – Mechanical Engineering

Landon Daniel Nash – Biomedical Engineering

Katherine Christine Stuckman – Computer Science

Cherish Christony Vance – Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Timothy Daniel Woodbury – Aerospace Engineering

Honorable Mention:

Haron Abdel-Raziq – Electrical Engineering

Brian Bass – Electrical Engineering

Tyler William Behm – Physics and Astronomy

Trevor John Bennett – Aerospace Engineering

Christine Michelle Bergerson – Biomedical Engineering

Alexandra Lynn Bryson – Microbiology

Shannon Lee Cole – Neuropsychology

Nathan Bradley Favero – Political Science

John Robert Haliburton – Biophysics

Matthew Christopher Johnson – Electrical Engineering

Michael Clinton Koetting – Chemical Engineering

Jeehyun Park – Biomedical Engineering

Courtney Nicole Passow – Evolutionary Biology

Kaitlyn Stiles – Biological Anthropology

Laura Timm – Marine Biology

Elizabeth Susan Wilson – Ecology

Undergraduate Research Scholar Spotlight – Tyler Behm

By Chrystina Rago

Behm during his visit to Rice. He is standing at the same podium JFK gave his "Go to the Moon" speech.
Behm during his visit to Rice. He is standing at the same podium JFK gave his “Go to the Moon” speech.

Recent graduate in physics and mathematics and Goldwater Scholar, Tyler Behm, knows his way around a laboratory.  Behm has been involved in undergraduate research since 2009.  His research has taken him across the nation and world to places like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics REU program to the National Solar Observatory to the Astronomical Instrumentation Conference in Amsterdam. 

Behm’s extensive undergraduate research experience led me to contact him to learn more about how he got involved in research and what his future holds.

Where are you from?

I’m from Lawton, OK.

Tell me about your undergraduate research and how it led you to Amsterdam?

My work with Texas A&M Astronomy Professor Dr. DePoy focused on index-matching fluids. These fluids bend light exactly like glass. This property makes them useful because we can fill the gaps between glass lenses with index-matching fluids to improve image quality.

Unfortunately, there have been documented cases of these fluids corroding telescopes. Although this does not compromise the telescope’s structural integrity, suspended corrosion residue makes the telescope blind to ultraviolet light and does millions of dollars of damage.

For my thesis, I tested different index-matching fluids and telescope materials to see if corrosion would occur. I presented my results in July 2012 at the Amsterdam Astronomical Instrumentation Conference.

The whole experience taught me that research is more than just the scientific method. Research requires many leadership skills like time management, budgeting, and networking. Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many industry companies at the conference would generously pay for research talent.

What is your next step after college?

I’ve been accepted to Yale, Rice, Boston University, University of Arizona, University of Hawaii, and University of Colorado. I don’t know which one I will attend. I am visiting four of them and will negotiate my financial offer before making a decision.

Who do you look up to most in your field?

I look up to my advisers the most. They have all done so much to help me.

Where do you hope to be in ten year?

In ten years, I hope to have completed my PhD in solar astronomy. I want to find a steady career job as an observatory researcher or a space-weather analyst. 

What advice would you give to other undergraduates?

Getting involved in research during my freshman year was the best career move that I made in college. The skills that I acquired are invaluable for any job, even if it’s something completely unrelated to my research, like banking or management. Consequently, it looks good on my resume for any job.

To infinity and beyond

Daniel Freeman’s curiosity about the world physics started in high school, where two of his physics teachers sparked his interest in pursuing a degree in physics.  Upon entering Texas A&M University Freeman decided to pursue a double major in physics and mathematics to capture a better understanding of the field of theoretical physics. Thanks to his thesis advisor Dr. Bhaskar Dutta, Freeman became interested in the subject of inflation, the period of rapid growth in the size of universe following the Big Bang. For his hard work and outstanding quality of his research Freeman has been awarded the 2012 Outstanding Thesis Award for Undergraduate Research Scholars. 

The Research Scholars program allows students who are interested in undergraduate research to create their own research project. With the guidance of a faculty mentor these students write an undergraduate thesis over the course of two semesters. Theses are submitted to the Texas A&M University Thesis office where they are made electronically available via the Texas A&M University Libraries digital repository.

Freeman’s research focused on what happened immediately following the universes creation, a phenomenon called inflation. Freeman took a mathematical approach to answering this question by applying models of quintessential inflation.  Not only did Freeman test these models against known astronomical data, but he also examined the predictive power of the models.  “What’s interesting is that today, in modern times, billions of years after inflation, we observe something very similar to inflation happening – basically, the universe is starting to expand again,” Freeman said of his research.

An important aspect of research such as this is to identify which models are helpful in revealing what happened following the Big Bang and which models are no longer useful.  Through Freeman’s tests of different quintessential inflation models, he found that the components he tested did not have much predictive value.  While these models might not have been any better at predicting how the universe will change in the future than others, Freeman sees the value in researching such ideas.  “Perhaps, in a hundred years, we will have a good reason to think one field governs these problems, and the next generation of physicists will see that yet another century old curiosity turned out to be on the right track, if a bit off the mark,” wrote Freeman in his Scholars Thesis. 

Freeman credits his undergraduate research experiences as being the most fulfilling thing he has done as an undergraduate.  “Getting exposure to research early is hugely beneficial, and I really appreciate having had the opportunity,” he said. Following his graduation this May Freeman will be attending the University of California at Berkeley, where he will pursue a PhD in physical chemistry.

Contact: Chrystina Rago, chrysrago@honors.tamu.edu