A long winning streak for Physics and Astronomy continues in 2020
The Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rutgers University can claim many honors. It’s one of the largest in the university’s School of Arts and Sciences, and faculty members and graduate students are routinely recognized for research in areas ranging from the Higgs Boson particle to String Theory to the discovery and exploration of supernovas and dark matter in the universe.
But what many may not know is that undergraduate students in the department have established a reputation of their own, winning the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship 18 times, including the last 11 years in succession.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is one of the premier undergraduate awards in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering, and is awarded annually to a select group of sophomores and juniors nationwide. The latest winner from Rutgers, and the physics department, is junior Noah Paladino, one of 396 Goldwater Scholars in the 2020-21 academic year.
Paladino has been working in the group of Professor Steve Schnetzer for nearly two years. He and two other undergraduate students, Rikab Gambhir, a 2019 Goldwater recipient, and Pam Pajarillo, both of whom are graduating seniors, have been working on a search for vector-like quarks (VLQ’s) using the CMS data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
This is the 11th consecutive year, and 13th of the past 15 years, that a physics major has won this celebrated distinction.
The department has long attracted and nurtured talented students with its multiple academic options geared to aspiring research scientists, teachers, technical professionals, and general students.
“At the American Association of Physics Teachers, this was referred to as the Rutgers Model,” said the late Mohan Kalelkar, the former long-time undergraduate director who passed away in 2019. “Some students want to go to graduate school and become physics researchers. Some want to become physics teachers. Some want to go right into industry. For others, it’s a more casual interest; they may end up going to medical school.”
The department offers many opportunities for undergraduates wanting to pursue research. “As representative of the high energy group, we have a lot of connections with national labs, and interaction with scientists at all levels in many countries,” says department Chair Bob Bartynski. “And that’s really a broadening experience.”
Arthur D. Casciato, the director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships at Rutgers, praised the physics department for its support for and mentoring of students.
“Physics offers a powerful example of how a department that gets solidly behind its candidates can make a difference in consistently winning Goldwater Scholarships,” Casciato said. “Over the past dozen years, I’ve worked with the Goldwater Scholars from Physics and all their applications were supported by the kind of detailed, specific and enthusiastic letters of recommendation from faculty mentors that are crucial to a candidate’s success.”
In the section below, 16 of the Physics Goldwater winners dating back to 1994 speak for themselves, reminiscing about their experience in the department and discussing life after Rutgers, which includes attending prestigious graduate programs and building highly successful careers.
Name: Noah Paladino
Class of 2021
Year Awarded: 2020
Physics at Rutgers: Studying physics at Rutgers has afforded me the opportunity to not only learn inside the classroom but beyond it. Since my first year, I have been involved in research analyzing data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to search for the existence of hypothesized new particles.
Mentors: I am very thankful to have Professor Stephen Schnetzer as my research advisor. In addition, Professor Amitabh Lath and the entire experimental high energy physics group at Rutgers have been incredibly supportive of my development as a student researcher.
Life goals after Rutgers: I hope to pursue a PhD in experimental high energy physics.
Name: Rikab Gambhir
Class of 2020
Year Awarded: 2019
Physics at Rutgers: Rikab Gambhir, majoring in physics in the School of Arts and Sciences and mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering, wants to pursue a doctoral degree in physics.
Mentor: I've been working with Prof. Steve Schnetzer on a search for vector-like quarks (VLQ’s) using the CMS data. If you are truly passionate, what seems like work can actually become enjoyable, even if it takes a little investment.
Name: Brandon Gomes
Class of 2021
Year Awarded: 2019
Physics at Rutgers: majoring in physics and mathematics and becoming a physics professor
Mentor: After my high school physics teacher, a professor at Rutgers, John Paul Chou, further sparked my love of physics. He gave me the opportunity and the resources I needed to approach my questions about the universe in a meaningful and scientific way and has played a very important role in my education as a physicist, and especially as a research scientist.
Name: Maine Christos
Year Graduated from Rutgers: 2019
Year Awarded: 2018
Graduate School: Harvard University
Physics at Rutgers: The Goldwater Scholarship carries a lot of weight, especially for a physics major and someone who wants to go to grad school in this field. Seeing all of the people from Rutgers University who were awarded this scholarship in the past means a lot to me.
Mentor: I worked with Professor Sunil Somalwar analyzing data from the LHC, specifically its Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector.
Life After Rutgers: Graduate student, The Laboratory for Particle Physics and Cosmology at Harvard University conducting research in experimental particle physics and observational cosmology.
Name: Viktor Krapivin
Year Graduated from Rutgers: 2018
Graduate School: Stanford University, Applied Physics and Physics
Physics at Rutgers: I took physics the earliest I could in high school and learned more about physics during weekend science programs. I always wanted to get a physics degree at a university.
Mentor: Girsh Blumberg, Rutgers Laser Spectroscopy Lab, thanks to the Aresty Research Assistant (RA) Program.
Name: Jenny Coulter
Year Graduated from Rutgers: 2017
Graduate School: Harvard University
Physics at Rutgers: 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
Mentor: 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.
Birnie said Coulter was the top student in his solar cells class last fall.
Life After Rutgers: Jenny is a PhD student at Harvard University in applied physics. She is interested in using computational techniques to predict transport in bulk materials. Using electron-phonon calculations, she studies the impact of different scattering processes on thermal/electrical conductivities and thermoelectric properties. She is currently supported by the DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF).
Name: Aditya Parikh
Year Graduated from Rutgers: 2016
Graduate School: Harvard University
Physics at Rutgers: The research experience I have gathered over the past three years as well as the opportunity to take graduate classes as an undergrad has prepared me for graduate school and the workload it entails.
Mentor: I was blessed to have Sevil Salur serve as my research adviser.
Professor David Shih and Professor Eric Gawiser were also immensely helpful during my application process and guided me throughout the years.
The Department as a whole has been incredibly supportive and has helped me improve as a scientist and a student.
Life After Rutgers: Graduate Student at Harvard University Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature High Energy Theory Group
Name: Asher Wasserman
Year graduated from Rutgers: 2015
Graduate School: University of California, Santa Cruz
Current Position and Employer: data scientist at xCures
The Rutgers physics experience: I was fortunate to study astrophysics at a university where there were many research opportunities for undergraduates.
This, along with the strong emphasis on teaching from the faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, contributed greatly to me making it into UC Santa Cruz for graduate school.
Mentor: Andrew Baker hired me as an undergraduate researcher in the summer following my first year at Rutgers.
He continued to work with me throughout my undergraduate career, providing me with professional and scientific support, and he has had a substantial impact on my early career as a scientist.
Life after Rutgers: Currently a data scientist at xCures working on statistical models for precision medicine. Completed a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying the connections between galaxies, globular clusters, and dark matter halos.
Name: David Kolchmeyer
Year Graduated Rutgers: 2014
Graduate School: Harvard University
The Rutgers physics experience: A huge part of my education occurred outside the classroom, including a research project on particle physics and data analysis. My primary research adviser, Amit Lath, gave me a lot of responsibility.
I also gained valuable experience as a teaching assistant in Eva Andrei's modern physics laboratory course. That will serve me well when I begin teaching undergraduates next year.
Mentor: Many physics professors were helpful, but Eva Andrei, John Paul Chou, and Amit Lath were absolutely essential to my success.
Life after Rutgers: I spent a transformative year studying theoretical physics at Churchill College, Cambridge.
I learned about cosmic inflation, extra dimensions, black holes, and other exciting topics.
As a Churchill Scholar, I enjoyed learning about Sir Winston at Chartwell, Blenheim Palace, and the Churchill War Rooms, among other places.
None of this would have been possible without my preparation from Rutgers and my research in the physics department.
I am currently a graduate student at Harvard University Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature High Energy Theory Group.
Name: Kelvin Mei
Year Graduated Rutgers: 2013
Graduate School: University of Cambridge and Princeton University.
Current Position: Graduate student at Princeton University, working on a doctorate in the subfield of high energy experimental physics.
The Rutgers physics experience: I was exposed to the basics of coding and the analysis of large data sets.
I also learned how to apply statistics in very specific scenarios, including looking for rare events and how to deal with very large number of backgrounds.
All these skills transfer and continue to be developed in my current career.
Mentor: My advisor Sunil Somalwar gave me the opportunities to do independent research as an undergraduate.
The other faculty members of the high energy experiment group also helped me, most specifically John Paul Chou and Amitabh Lath.
Life after Rutgers: I am proud that within two years, I have been able to complete two masters, one from the University of Cambridge on linear collider physics and one through Princeton University.
With these degrees, I plan to move to Geneva, Switzerland to fully focus on my research at the Large Hadron Collider.
Name: Kiersten Ruisard
Year graduated Rutgers: 2012
Graduate School: University of Maryland, College Park
Current Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
The Rutgers physics experience: Rutgers physics prepared me very well for graduate level work, particularly the qualifying exam.
Rutgers also provided a great deal of support for undergraduate research, in the form of the Aresty research program and departmental scholarships.
Being encouraged to start research early led to many opportunities and choices for graduate school.
Mentor: Andrew Baker supported me in research for three years and continues to be a strong mentoring presence even after I moved away from his research field.
Life after Rutgers: Finished PhD at University of Maryland College Park 2018. Currently Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
I have also been involved in teaching and developing materials for an inaugural undergraduate course.
My proudest achievement was winning a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship.
Name: Ed Lochocki
Year Graduated from Rutgers: 2011
Graduate School: Cornell University, Ph.D. candidate.
Current Position and Employer: postdoctoral researcher, University of Illinois
The Rutgers physics experience: The physics and math classes I took at Rutgers prepared me for graduate school.
And my capstone project introduced me to an area that I studied in more detail at Cornell.
Mentor: Andrew Baker was always there to give me advice about applying for research opportunities, scholarships, and graduate school.
Weida Wu taught me about the physics of oxide materials and helped me position myself for a good graduate school experience.
Life after Rutgers: Edward Lochocki is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois. His research for the RIPE project will relate to improving photosynthesis models. He earned his doctorate in physics at Cornell University. Edward has also completed a previous postdoctoral research position in materials science and engineering with the Platform for the Accelerated Realization, Analysis, and Discovery of Interface Materials (PARADIM) at Cornell University.
Name: Jennifer van Saders
Year Graduated from Rutgers: 2009
Graduate School: The Ohio State University, PhD in Astronomy followed by Carnegie-Princeton Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Observatories.
Current Position and Employer: Assistant Professor, University of Hawai`i
The Rutgers physics experience: I had the opportunity to do hands-on research, attend departmental colloquia, and participate in functions such as journal clubs, which are usually attended by graduate students and postdocs.
I benefited from the mentorship of many people within the department, and felt comfortable interacting with them as an undergraduate thanks to the contact I had with them at departmental functions.
Mentor: Charles Keeton was a fantastic guide for my first forays into research. Andrew Baker also served as an influential mentor, and still does to this day.
If it weren't for their advice, I’d probably never have applied to Ohio State for my graduate degree.
In addition, the Aresty Summer Research Program was critical in launching my research career, paving the way toward receiving the Goldwater Scholarship.
Life after Rutgers: Assistant Professor of steller astronomy at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa Institute for Astronomy
Name: Danna Rosenberg
Year Graduated Rutgers: 1996
Graduate School: Stanford University, PhD in physics.
Current Position and Employer: Technical staff, Lincoln Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Rutgers physics experience: The physics department at Rutgers provided me with a strong base to go to graduate school and have a career in physics.
Mentor: Terry Matilsky was a fantastic mentor, and his creativity and passion helped inspire me to pursue a career in physics.
Life after Rutgers: I did a postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and then accepted a position as a technical staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory before moving to MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
During my postdoc my colleagues and I were able to improve the detection efficiency of a type of single photon detector to 89 percent, a record at the time. We went on to use these detectors in a quantum communication system, setting a new record there as well.
Name: Dan Rabinowitz
Year Graduated Rutgers: 1996
Graduate School: University of California, Santa Barbara, PhD in physics.
Current Position and Employer: Lead Software Engineer, LivingSocial
The Rutgers physics experience: I learned a lot of the fundamentals of professional life: research, integrity, and humility.
Mentor: Peter Lindenfeld was my first research advisor and I still have fond memories of him.
Life after Rutgers: My current role, leading a team of software developers on a challenging project, is the highlight of my professional career so far.
I love the dual challenges of working with completely rational computers and intensely human colleagues.
Name: Oskar Liivak
Year Graduated Rutgers: 1994
Graduate School: Cornell University, PhD physics.
Current Position and Employer: Professor of Law, Cornell Law School
The Rutgers physics experience: The Professional Option for Physics Majors gave me the rigorous training and background needed to handle a top-notch physics graduate program.
Mentor: Joseph Sak and Stephen Shenker were great teachers.
Life after Rutgers: At Cornell I focused on biophysics and in particular nuclear magnetic resonance techniques for determining the three dimensional structure of proteins.
I spent a year as Visiting Scientist at IBM’s Almaden Research Lab working on the physical realization of quantum computation.
Ultimately I went to law school and returned to Ithaca where I am teaching and researching intellectual property law at Cornell Law School.