The tiniest, unseen phenomena can unlock secrets of the universe.
And helping scientists observe them has earned a Central Michigan University physics student the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, worth $7,500.
Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation recently awarded the prize to Jacob Davison, a junior from Galesburg, Michigan, for work he did last year during a nine-week internship.
Specifically, Davison helped scientists at
Los Alamos National Laboratory, near Santa Fe, New Mexico, measure nuclear collisions. They’re very small, but they’re everywhere — and constant.
Studying and measuring the collisions can provide clues as to how the universe works.
“I feel pretty good,” said Davison, who plans to use the money toward next year’s tuition. “It’s nice to have recognition for hard work.”
The Goldwater Scholarship is considered the premier award for undergraduates in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. For 2017-18, 1,286 students at 470 institutions were nominated for the awards.
Davison and 239 other students actually landed one. Another 307 were named honorable mentions.
Two of those were a pair of CMU juniors: Kyle Brumm, a biology major from Nashville, Michigan, and Noah Danielson, a biochemistry major from Midland, Michigan.
In his project, Davison used a simulated silicon detector to verify whether the more expensive real detectors would perform as expected.
The detectors are used to collect data from experiments involved in researching nuclear reactions that occur in extreme environments, such as the core of a star or inside a nuclear reactor.
“Oxygen is found everywhere,” Davison said. ”It’s in the air we breathe. It’s in a lot of the materials we use every day.”
“There also are a lot of neutrons flying around everywhere, and it’s important to get an idea how these oxygen-neutron reactions take place,” he said.
Such reactions can indicate how the various elements evolved in the universe, he said.
Davison said he’d like to earn a doctorate at a university with a nuclear physics program and then continue his research and pass on knowledge to others as a professor.
He quickly credits CMU with his successes so far.
“The physics department here is fantastic,” Davison said. “It’s small but at the same time it’s close-knit. I’ve made a lot of good friends, and I have a lot of good professors who have pushed me to succeed.
“I’m really glad that I picked Central.”
Georgios Perdikakis, a physics faculty member, described Davison as “awesome.”
“I think he’s an example of what a student can accomplish,” Perdikakis said. “I’m sure he’s going to have a great career, and I think the opportunities are there for him.”