Alumnus Honored as 2014 Apker Finalist

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Harvey Mudd College physics graduate Jaron Kent-Dobias ’14 was selected as a finalist for the American Physical Society’s 2014 LeRoy Apker Award. The Apker Award recognizes outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students, providing encouragement to young physicists who have demonstrated great potential for future scientific accomplishment. Kent-Dobias is the College’s eighth Apker finalist since 1998.

Under the advisement of mathematics Professor Andrew Bernoff, Kent-Dobias conducted interdisciplinary research in physics and mathematics for his senior thesis, focusing on two-dimensional fluids with dipole interactions. A variety of two-dimensional fluid systems, known as dipole-mediated systems, exhibit a dipole-dipole interaction between their fluid constituents. The competition of this repulsive dipolar force with the cohesive fluid forces causes these systems to form intricate and patterned structures in their boundaries. Kent-Dobias’ thesis demonstrated that the microscopic details of any such system are irrelevant in the macroscopic limit and contribute only to a constant offset in the system’s energy.

Kent-Dobias presented his research to the Apker Award selection committee in September. Each year, the committee invites five or six finalists out of all nominees to give presentations of their undergraduate work. Two award recipients are selected from the finalists, each receiving $5,000. Finalists receive an honorarium of $2,000 and a certificate of acknowledgement. Each finalist’s nominating physics department also receives $1,000 in support of undergraduate research.

“I was pleased to see the American Physical Society recognize Jaron for his hard work and dedication to this research project over the past two years,” said Bernoff, Diana and Kenneth Jonsson Professor of Mathematics. “His senior thesis is a significant step forward in our understanding of these systems. It was fun and enlightening watching these results unfold from a clever combination of physical modeling, mathematical analysis and numerical simulation.”

Kent-Dobias typified academic excellence during his time at Mudd, graduating with high distinction and honors. He received the Department of Mathematics’ Chavin Prize, awarded for an outstanding senior thesis in the mathematical sciences. He was also awarded the Department of Physics’ Thomas B. Brown Memorial Award, given to a senior physics student. In addition, Kent-Dobias was a physics tutor for the Academic Excellence Program, a grader in physics and mathematics, and a systems administrator for the Computer Science Department. He also worked as a lab mentor at the Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences, tutoring Claremont Colleges students in Mathematica, LaTeX and Python.

Kent-Dobias is currently pursuing a PhD in condensed matter theory and is a research assistant at Cornell University.