Two FSU physics students win National Science Foundation fellowships

From the Tallahassee Democrat:

It was just an average day in seventh-grade when Kelly Ann Pawlak, then 12, discovered what she wanted to be.

“My math teacher brought in this video, “The Elegant Universe” with (physicist) Brian Greene, and when it was over, I just knew,” Pawlak, now 21, recalled. “I went running home that afternoon and said ‘Mom, Dad, I want to be a physicist!’ “

A seed of wonder had been planted: the idea that she could understand the entire world through mathematics.

Fast forward to 2014. Pawlak, now a Florida State University senior with a dual major in physics and applied and computational mathematics, is very close to realizing her middle-school dream. Both she and FSU physics doctoral student Sam Greer recently won a prestigious 2014 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

Each will receive $32,000 a year for three years, with an additional $12,000 annual allowance going directly to the graduate institution each attends. Both work with MagLab scientists: Pawlak’s mentor is Oskar Vafek,an FSU associate professor of condensed matter physics; Greer’s is Stephen Hill, an FSU professor of physics and the director of the MagLab’s Electron Magnetic Resonance program.

Read more from the Democrat article here.


Undergraduate research: If you’re in 8th grade, you’re not too many years away from doing this!

Most physics majors participate in cutting edge scientific research as undergraduates.  For students reading this post, that’s six years – or fewer – away.

_D7K4686For example, take a look at FSU undergraduate Chris Mertin.  His research work at FSU’s John D. Fox Superconducting Linear Accelerator Laboratory involves examining the motions of individual protons and neutrons in the nuclei of nitrogen isotopes. The laboratory is a national leader in the education of nuclear scientists at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.


Chris’ work involves high purity semiconductor radiation detectors, the use of superconducting accelerator technology, high vacuum, and analysis of data using sophisticated computer codes.

Chris wants to earn a Ph.D. in physics, so he’ll be applying to graduate schools in the fall.  But his work in the laboratory would also make him an attractive candidate as a bachelor’s degree graduate for high tech companies, if he chose that career path.

Science Careers: Medical Physics

From Science Careers:

For several days after thyroid cancer patients receive treatment with radioactive iodine—the goal is to kill any thyroid tissue that remains after surgery—”their body fluids are radioactive, and they pose a risk to other people,” says Jessica Clements, medical physics manager and radiation safety officer at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Dallas (a part of the Texas Health Resources hospital system). The patients generally live at home during this phase of their treatment, and getting them through it without endangering family members and associates requires working with them to develop plans that take into account specific living arrangements, medical needs, and potential dangers to vulnerable people in the patient’s life, such as children.

Guiding patients through an intimidating procedure is just one of many patient-focused tasks that Clements regularly performs, but she doesn’t hold a degree in medicine, nursing, or any traditional clinical field. Instead, with a master’s degree in physics and certification from the American Board of Radiology, Clements is a medical physicist, a member of a small profession that plays an important role in health care, though not a very visible one. 

“If you’re going to use an MRI scan or a CT scan or … do something like radiosurgery, you need a team of people, because nobody has the expertise to span neurosurgery, the medical portion of radiation oncology, and medical physics,” says Frank Bova, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Florida medical school in Gainesville. Bova’s Ph.D. is in nuclear engineering, with a specialization in medical physics. “Hospitals that have radiation oncology, diagnostic radiology, and nuclear medicine all have medical physicists.”

Read more of this article about medical physics careers here.