Jenny Coulter, a physics major in the School of Arts and Sciences, was named one of 252 Goldwater Scholars in the nation for the 2016-17 academic year.
She thought she might study art in college. Then she took a physics class in high school.
“I did an about-face. I went into the class thinking I would fail, and came out with an entirely different perspective on math and science,” said Coulter, who as a junior majoring in physics in the School of Arts and Sciences was named one of 252 Goldwater Scholars in the nation for the 2016-17 academic year.
At Rutgers, Coulter has conducted solar cell research in the School of Engineering, working with Dunbar P. Birnie III, professor of materials science and engineering. She also researches high energy heavy-ion nuclear physics, working with Sevil Salur, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Such research is based on the collision of lead ions at tremendous speeds at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, the foremost particle accelerator in the world.
I did an about-face. I went into the class thinking I would fail, and came out with an entirely different perspective on math and scienceBirnie said Coulter was the top student in his solar cells class. “Certainly, she is one of the best students I’ve had,” Birnie said. “She’s going to be a very collegial and collaborative scientist in the future, and I’m happy that she’s gotten a start working with me.”
Coulter credits Stephen Godkin, a Rutgers alumnus who taught her physics at Communications High School in Wall, for sparking her interest in the field, as well as Douglass Residential College, which facilitated her forays into research during the first two summers after she arrived at Rutgers. She also credits her parents, Donna and John Coulter, both Rutgers alumni. “My parents have been really supportive of my interests, too. Neither of them knew to encourage me towards physics.”
Coulter was also busy outside of classes and labs as president and outreach coordinator in the Rutgers University Society of Physics Students; a mentor and program co-coordinator for the Douglass Project for Rutgers Women in Math, Science and Engineering; and, the student representative on the Rutgers Department of Physics and Astronomy Undergraduate StudiesCommittee. And she won an American Physical Society grant to form Rutgers University Women in Physics and Astronomy, a group that she served as undergraduate chair.
Upon graduating from Rutgers, Coulter received a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship and is now in the applied physics doctoral program at Harvard University.
“Essentially, I will be using computational methods to tackle physics problems,” she said. “I will study methods to numerically solve difficult physics problems without analytical solutions. We take a class of very hard physics problems into problems that can be solved using supercomputers.”
Arthur D. Casciato, director of Rutgers’ Office of Distinguished Fellowships, said that Rutgers has doubled the number of Goldwater scholars in recent years. “We’ve had eight Goldwater Scholarsfrom physics in the last nine years, three of them women,” he said. “Like those who preceded her, Jen Coulter is a tremendously deserving candidate, supported by the kind of detailed, specific and enthusiastic letters of recommendation we’ve come to expect from physics faculty.”
The scholarship–which awards up to $7,500 toward tuition, fees, books, and room and board– is the premier undergraduate award of its kind in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, endowed by the federal government, honors former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater.
“I’m honored,” said Coulter, who is from Manasquan. “It’s a tremendous deal for a student doing research to receive that award.”
This story originally appeared on Rutgers Today.
By Todd B. Bates