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Students’ research recognized with national award

Torrey Saxton and Jonathan Unger were awarded the Goldwater Scholarship.

Physics juniors Jonathan Unger and Torrey Saxton were recently recognized as 2018-2019 Goldwater Scholars.

The Honors Program is proud of two Illinois State University Physics majors who were recently awarded the Goldwater Scholarship, a national award that honors Senator Barry Goldwater and encourages outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.  Torrey Saxton, from Alton, IL, and Jonathan Unger, from Bloomington, IL are both juniors.  Honors Program Assistant Director Christie Martin was pleased to work with Saxton and Unger throughout the application process.  Martin said, “Our campus has a unique culture that fosters undergraduate research, and these experiences set students up to be competitive in prestigious national scholarship competitions such as the Goldwater.”

Craig McLauchlan, Chemistry Professor and Chair and member of the Goldwater campus review committee, agreed.  “The Goldwater Scholarship has long been a mark of honor and prestige within the sciences,” said McLauchlan.  “Illinois State University, especially the department of Physics, has a rich history of producing winners of this prestigious prize.  The Goldwater tends to be awarded to students who have shown evidence of productivity in research, not just promise.”  McLauchlan went on to say, “I have served on the review committee for ISU several times and have seen some excellent applications.  The applications of Torrey and Jonathan were very strong, so it is nice to see them recognized for their work.”

Given that the Goldwater Scholarship recognizes involvement in research and the potential for future success, it’s interesting to note that neither student started their college career planning to pursue research.  Saxton originally wanted to go into nuclear engineering and noted that “research as an undergraduate actually completely changed my career plans.”  Though Unger started his work with Distinguished Professors Rainer Grobe and Charles Su in the Intense Laser Physics Theory Unit (ILP) even before he started classes, his original plan was to be an engineer.  At the time, research seemed like a “worthwhile extracurricular activity,” but has since transformed into a great interest and redirected his future plans.

Unger, an Honors Program student, is pursuing a double major in General Physics and Computer Physics.  Unger’s Honors Research has led to a variety of publications and presentations.  Unger’s goal is to earn a PhD in atomic, molecular, and optical physics and then pursue a research and teaching career at the university level.

Saxton, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, transferred to Illinois State after earning an associate’s degree from Lewis and Clark Community College.  He is pursuing majors in Physics, Computer Physics, and General Mathematics.  Saxton’s primary research has been with Associate Professor Allison Harris and has led to numerous publications and presentations.  After earning a PhD in Physics, Saxton’s goal is to conduct research in theoretical high-energy particle physics and study super-symmetry extensions of the standard model.  Saxton referred to the Goldwater Scholar as “a tremendous honor” and he hopes it will “provide a firm stepping stone towards being successful in graduate school.”

Students are eligible to apply for the Goldwater Scholarship in their sophomore or junior years.  Successful candidates have a strong commitment to a research career in the natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering; have engaged in research experiences, and show potential for significant future contributions to their field.  Though the Honors Program coordinates the application, students need not be members of the program to apply.  Interested students may contact Christie Martin at cmproct@ilstu.edu for information about the application process, which begins in October.  Faculty are also encouraged to submit names of potential applicants.

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