Two Florida physics majors win 2015 Goldwater Scholarships, three more named Honorable Mention

Florida students majoring in physics at Boston College and Eckerd College won 2015 Goldwater Scholarships, while three more attending Rollins College, the University of Florida and Florida State University won Honorable Mention.

Goldwater Scholarship Winners:

James F Brogan
Institution: Boston College
Major(s): Physics, Chemistry
Career Goal: M.D./Ph.D. in Physics. Conduct research in medical physics to develop novel treatment methods.

Kevin D Thielen
Institution: Eckerd College
Major(s): Mathematics, Physics
Career Goal: Ph. D. in Applied Mathematics; Conduct research in numerical analysis and teach at the university level.

Honorable Mention:

Samantha R Collin
Institution: Rollins College
Major(s): Physics
Career Goal: Ph.D. in Physics. Conduct research in acoustic robotics and teach at a major university.

Jennifer R Crawford
Institution: University of Florida
Major(s): Physics
Career Goal: Ph.D. in Physics. Conduct condensed matter physics research and teach at a university level.

Emily K Estry
Institution: Florida State University
Major(s): Physics, Applied and Computational Mathematics
Career Goal: Ph.D. in Condensed Matter Physics. Conduct research in condensed matter phenomena at a National Laboratory.

FSU Physics major and Goldwater Honorable Mention Winner Emily Estry

FSU Physics major and Goldwater Honorable Mention Winner Emily Estry


What does an atomic nucleus look like? Oviedo High grad looks for an exotic nuclear shape.

The usual popular picture of an atomic nucleus is of a roughly spherical clump of protons (usually red) and neutrons (usually blue), with electrons zipping around outside.

It turns out that it’s just not that way.  In fact, it was understood as early as 75 years ago that many atomic nuclei are shaped like footballs, and some others are shaped like doorknobs.  These shapes have a particular symmetry – if you cut them in half along either axis the two halves look like mirror images of each other.

But are there nuclei with shapes that do not have this symmetry?  There may be, and FSU Physics major and Oviedo High grad Cole Hensley is looking for a few such nuclei.

cole1Cole has taken charge of the analysis of an experiment run this summer at FSU’s John D. Fox Superconducting Accelerator Laboratory to see if the nuclei of several isotopes of elements heavier than lead are shaped like pears – a shape which can be cut to give two halves that are not mirror images of each other.

Cole also has a significant extracurricular activity:  He swims butterfly for FSU’s swim team and was a championship finalist at the ACC Championship in the 200 yard butterfly.

What’s going on inside a proton? Stanton Prep grad is digging into it.

My thanks to FSU Physics Professor and particle theorist Jeff Owens for his explanation of Dayshon’s research.  The text here is an edited version of what Prof. Owens sent.

The proton is usually described as consisting of three even smaller particles called quarks.  There are six types (or “flavors”) of quarks – up, down, strange, charm, top and bottom.  And there is an “anti-quark” of each flavor of quark.  At a basic level, the proton consists of three quarks – two up quarks and one down quark.

But quark-antiquark pairs wink into and out of existence constantly in a phenomenon called “quantum fluctuations.” Anti-up and anti-down quarks are expected, but pairs of strange and anti-strange quarks can also occur in the proton.  One way of finding out how these strange quark pairs behave in the nucleus is to look at the production of particles called “W-bosons” in high energy physics experiments like those performed at the CERN laboratory in Europe.


Enter Dayshon Mathis, a graduate of Duval County’s Stanton Prep who just completed his 2nd year as an FSU physics major.  Dayshon is theoretically mining the proton – working to understand the motion of these strange quark/anti-quark pairs in the proton by looking at W-bosons produced in experiments.  The goal is to find an experimental strategy that can be used to solve this mystery of the proton.

Have design talent and want to be an architect? Here’s an example of why you should take math and physics seriously.

Bridge to Tomorrow

Most students who are considering a career in architecture think only in terms of the artistic aspects.

If you are thinking like that, think again.

Last fall, I shared a bit of the homework that students in Harvard’s graduate program in architecture had in their Structures 1 class.  Those same students just finished their Structures 2 course.  One of the projects in that class was to build a bridge and test whether the bridge could hold a substantial amount of weight.  The professor made a video of the tests, which you can view here.  It’s entertaining, perhaps especially for those of us without a single fiber of artistic ability.

As I’ve mentioned before, calculus and a calculus-based physics course are required for admission to strong graduate programs in architecture, which (given the competitiveness of the field) are the only ones worth attending.  So if you’re a high school student…

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This 2nd year physics major made FSU’s Fox Superconducting Linear Accelerator work better


Walking into the hall that houses FSU’s John D. Fox Superconducting Linear Accelerator can be a little intimidating.  Between the cryostat tanks holding the superconducting resonators cooled to liquid helium temperature (4 kelvins, in case you were wondering) to the plumbing and refrigerators that handle all that liquid helium, to the electronics that pump energy into the resonators so that ions of carbon and other elements can be accelerated to 20% of the speed of light – there is plenty to be overwhelmed by.

Apparently being intimidated and overwhelmed never occurred to second-year physics major Madeline Austin, who is also a graduate of Duval County’s Stanton Prep.  She has spent the last year improving the nanosecond timing of the accelerator so that it can makes beams of ions like carbon-12 more efficiently.


In fact, Austin did such a good job on FSU’s accelerator that she won $500 for placing second in the FSU Physics Department’s undergraduate research poster session in April.

And…Austin is spending this summer at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, where the resonators that drive FSU’s linear accelerator were manufactured.  She will return to FSU in the fall.