Winter 2020 was certainly a semester to remember. Everyone transitioned from their normal lives and adapted to a new set of circumstances—academically, professionally, and personally. In a normal semester, the last few weeks are spent celebrating better weather, graduation, and the excitement of summer plans.
Part of the celebration for our department is the recognition of our undergraduate awardees at our department graduation and awards ceremony. Although printing this exciting news is not our preference, we are excited to highlight the outstanding achievements of our award winners. There were many outstanding applicants and nominees for the awards, and the decisions were difficult, but these students, selected by the Department of Physics, rose to the top.
The department has several awards that are given to undergraduates for a variety of reasons. The first student we would like to recognize is the winner of the Ralph B. Bodine Award, Safi-ur-Rahman Syed. The Bodine Award is given to a sophomore student with proven academic ability. Mr. Syed’s application for this award was supported by Professors Henriette Elvang, David Gerdes, and Junjie Zhu. Among his many exceptional qualities, the letters of recommendation submitted on his behalf highlight his academic achievements and mathematical mastery, as well as programming and communication skills. Each of these skills will serve him well in his future goal to pursue a career in research.
The next awardee is the winner of the William L. Williams Thesis Award, Zhiquan Sun, for her thesis entitled Indirect Detection of Axion Dark Matter with Radio Signals from Neutron Stars. This award is given to an undergraduate senior who submits an outstanding senior thesis exemplifying the ability to pose a question, investigate it, and find an answer. Ms. Sun spent time during her undergraduate career working with Professor Benjamin Safdi on her research, which focused on understanding the particle nature of dark matter. Together they published two papers, one of which appeared in the journal Physical Review Letters. She was also able to present her work at multiple conferences, including at a talk at the American Physical Society April Meeting last year. Ms. Sun will begin pursuing a Ph.D. in theoretical physics with an interest in the formal structures of quantum field theory and particle phenomenology this fall as she attends MIT.
Another outstanding student, Sophie Hourihane, is the recipient of three awards this year: The Patrick Dahlin Memorial Award, the Wirt and Mary Cornwell Prize, and the Walter W. Wada Award.
The first award, the Patrick Dahlin Memorial Award, is given to a Physics major showing great promise. She was nominated for the award by Professor Keith Riles, who has worked with Ms. Hourihane as a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. As part of her work, she demonstrated her ability to learn and adapt to programming languages and tackle new projects on par with graduate students.
Ms. Hourihane’s application for the Wirt and Mary Cornwell Prize was also supported by Professor Riles. This prize is awarded to a student honoring research or other contributions to the department. She has been involved in research with the department since her freshman year and has been collaborating with the Michigan Gravitational Waves Group. Her research includes studying the use of the Viterbi algorithm in continuous gravitational wave searches. She credits an unnamed previous student with encouraging her to get involved in research which has shaped her experience at the University of Michigan and beyond, prompting her to get involved in multiple REU programs, including one at NASA. In turn, Ms. Hourihane, now a graduate, has encouraged other students she meets to reach out to professors and helps to facilitate connections. Her efforts will, undoubtedly, shape future graduates’ experiences as well.
The third award Ms. Hourihane received was the Walter W. Wada Award. This is given to a member of the physics community that looks for ways to build community, increases cultural understanding, and promotes a respect for diversity within the department. It is clear to see from her previous recommendations and achievements why she was nominated for this award. Her nomination came from another physics student, Michael Wentzel. In his letter, he cites that, as a member of both the Society of Women in Physics (SWIP), as a co-chair for outreach, and the Society of Physics Students (SPS), Ms. Hourihane has consistently demonstrated her commitment to improving physics through outreach programs, including some targeted at elementary and high schools students. Outreach has clearly been a priority. As part of her goal of becoming a physics professor, she strives to make physics more accessible to a wide range of people. Ms. Hourihane will be pursuing her PhD at the California Institute of Technology. She will be studying gravitational waves through a computational lens.
Sabrina Corsetti was the recipient of the Otho Lyle Tiffany and Mary Lois Tiffany Fellowship this year. Her application for this award was supported by Professors Thomas Schwarz and Junjie Zhu. The Tiffany Fellowship is awarded to a non-graduating student who shows promise and progress in their academic efforts. Ms. Corsetti has consistently been a high academic achiever and is involved in research as well. Her academic path has taken her through multiple Honors courses in which she excelled and demonstrated her ability to learn independently. She was selected to participate in the CERN Semester Abroad Program and worked with the Michigan ATLAS group, specifically on the ATLAS New Small Wheel (NSW) upgrade studies. As a result of her work, she was asked to give a plenary talk at ATLAS Upgrade Week, a high honor that is typically reserved for postdocs or other senior members of the team.
In addition to all the department awards, the C. Wilbur Peters Chapter Service Award is given to a member of the Society of Physics Students (SPS) in recognition of their contributions to the chapter. This year, based on nominations from fellow SPS members, the recipient of the award is Alexis Mulski. Among her many qualifications, Ms. Mulski’s willingness to help other students and contribute to the betterment of SPS resources to help future students were highlighted among her multiple nominations.
Each of these students has demonstrated excellence across a variety of areas such as academics, research, and outreach. We are fortunate that they chose our department and know that they have bright futures ahead. We’d like to offer you best wishes, congratulations, and every success as you move forward with your scholarly, professional, and personal goals. Go Blue!