Three undergraduates earn Goldwater Scholarships for academic merit in STEM fields

Mary Abowd
News Officer for Arts & HumanitiesUniversity Communications

Three third-year students in the College have been named Barry Goldwater Scholars and will receive grants to pursue research careers in science, mathematics and engineering.

Benjamin Lowe, Seth Musser and Jonathan Sorce were nominated by the University and selected from a field of 1,150 applicants, representing 415 colleges and universities nationwide. The prestigious one- and two-year scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year.

“This is a clear indication that our STEM-focused students exhibit levels of creativity and dedication that shine through their plans for future research initiatives,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College and the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History and the College. “We are very proud, yet not surprised, that the Barry Goldwater Scholarship program sees such promise in Ben, Seth and Jon.”

Lowe is a mathematics major who plans to earn a doctorate in mathematics, focusing on topology. Last summer, Lowe spent eight weeks at Brown University’s Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics, where he researched problems in real algebraic geometry related to configuration spaces of mechanical linkages. This summer, he will study low-dimensional topology at the University of Michigan.

Lowe has worked as a counselor in the Chicago-based Young Scholars Program, teaching discrete math to high-achieving middle school students. When he’s not engaged in mathematics, he can be found playing with UChicago's intramural floor hockey team. Lowe said he is drawn to mathematics because of its useful connections to related fields. “Just as the applied sciences and engineering benefit from mathematics,” he said, “it is evident to me that mathematics is greatly enriched by contact with more applied fields.”

Musser is pursuing degrees with honors in both physics and mathematics and plans to study physics in graduate school. His areas of interest include high-energy theory and attempts to find a unified theory for the four fundamental forces, such as those found in string theory, loop quantum gravity and other unification theories.

After earning a doctorate in physics, Musser would like to teach at the university level. “I have a passion for teaching physics to students in a way that emphasizes symmetries and pictures, conserved quantities and rigorous mathematics, rather than calculation using blind heuristics,” he said. “This abstract formulation of physics gives the field a level of elegance and precision that I hope would inspire students to do research in physics as I wish to do.” Musser already has conducted extensive research in mathematics and physics at UChicago.

Sorce is an honors physics and mathematics student who will pursue a doctorate in theoretical physics, researching interdisciplinary problems in fundamental physics. He is particularly interested in exploring phenomena at the intersection of gravitation and high-energy theory, for example applying techniques developed in string theory to the study of black holes.

He is currently conducting research in the classical theory of black holes, investigating how the presence of stationary matter in close proximity to a black hole alters its fundamental properties. “Theoretical physics is a notoriously hard field to get involved in as a young student, in part because funding is scarce for undergraduates,” Sorce said. “The Goldwater Scholarship gives me the opportunity to dedicate myself to research and tackle important scientific problems in a way that would ordinarily be impossible at this point in my career.” Sorce is active in theater at UChicago and serves on the board of the Dean’s Men, UChicago’s Shakespeare troupe.

This year’s Goldwater Scholars were assisted by the College Center for Scholarly Advancement, a new office in the College that informs undergraduates about national scholarship, fellowship and postgraduate opportunities and helps them through the application process.