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UT student earns prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

A University of Toledo physics student was awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, one of the oldest and most competitive honors in the country in the fields of science and mathematics.

Nathan Szymanski, who graduated from Genoa Area High School and is in his third year at UT, is one of 211 students in the United States chosen to receive $7,500 a year to be used for tuition, books and housing for the remainder of their undergraduate experience.

Szymanski

“It feels truly amazing to be selected for the Goldwater Scholarship, and I am very grateful for all the help that the faculty at UT, especially in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has provided me,” said Szymanski, who is double majoring in physics and mathematics. “I believe I was chosen because of my high level of research experience.”

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to honor the lifetime work of Sen. Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman. The foundation’s goal is to support “highly qualified undergraduates who are subsequently obtaining advanced degrees and going on to become this country’s leading scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”

Szymanski, who studies computational materials science at UT, uses supercomputers for his solid-state physics research, which includes working with lithium-ion batteries and solar cell materials for solar panels.

“I have been conducting research since my freshman year here at UT,” Szymanski said. “I have worked on a wide variety of projects. This resulted in me publishing a paper in a peer-reviewed international academic journal.”

He was first author on “Electronic and Optical Properties of Vanadium Oxides From First Principles,” which was recently published in Computational Materials Science.

“The goal of our research is to apply state-of-the-art theoretical and computational techniques to understand materials systems of significant experimental interest,” Szymanski said. “This work involves the prediction of new phenomena, as well as explanation of existing experimental data. We also are able to predict new materials that have desirable properties for a wide variety of applications, such as solar cells, lithium-ion batteries and thin-film coatings.”

“Nathan was faced with many challenges in research, all of which he overcame with astounding proficiency,” said Dr. Sanjay V. Khare, professor and chair of the UT Department of Physics and Astronomy, and co-author on Szymanski’s published paper. “He gained a deep understanding of numerous advanced theories, such as density functional theory and special quasi-random structures, which would typically prove daunting even to senior graduate students.”

Szymanski plans to earn a PhD in materials science and work in research laboratories.

“My overall long-term goal is to make meaningful contributions to the advancement of future technology, such as solar cells and batteries, as well as hopefully improve the theoretical and computational methods being used to do so,” Szymanski said.

Szymanski is the first UT student to be named a Goldwater Scholar in 16 years. The last undergraduate was Robert Cooper in the Department of Physics and Astronomy who graduated in 2002, went on to earn his PhD from the University of Michigan in 2008, and is now an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at New Mexico State University.

“The prestigious Goldwater Scholarship will place Nathan in the very top category of students applying for graduate programs in the best institutions of higher learning,” Khare said. “I have no doubt that Nathan will one day make great contributions to the scientific enterprise.”

The UT Office of Undergraduate Research provided funding for Szymanski’s research and oversaw his application for the scholarship.

“This is a great honor for Nathan and his mentors at the University,” Dr. Jonathan Bossenbroek, director of the UT Office of Undergraduate Research and professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, said.