Mudders Earn Goldwater Honors

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The most prestigious national award for undergraduate STEM researchers has been awarded to Harvey Mudd College sophomore Timothy Middlemas.

Middlemas, a physics major, received a 2015 Goldwater Scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year. He performed cross-disciplinary research with Professor of Chemistry Robert Cave, investigating multi-state effects in chemical reactions. In many chemical processes, so-called “non-adiabaticity” effects are the essence of the electron transfer (ET) problem, determining their distance- and orientation-dependencies. They all use some approximation to calculate the electronic coupling element, and are typically difficult to calculate accurately. Approximation methods are ubiquitous, but formal tests of their accuracy are difficult to come by. Middlemas worked on a one-dimensional, two-site model for which exact wavefunctions can be calculated—namely the two delta function potential.

“Tim’s model, though simple, offers the possibility of a rigorous test of approximate methods for the calculation of the electronic coupling because exact wavefunctions can be obtained and their nuclear derivatives calculated (numerically),” says Cave. “That Tim made this kind of progress in one summer and has obtained a working code that will answer important questions in electron transfer is singular in my experience. He has a passion for doing science and doing it well, and is an exemplary recipient of this award.”

Middlemas plans to pursue a PhD in chemical physics and hopes to conduct research in theoretical and computational chemistry and teach at the university level.

The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,206 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. One hundred forty-five of the Scholars are men, 115 are women and virtually all intend to obtain a PhD as their degree objective.

Honorable Mentions

Three Harvey Mudd College juniors were awarded Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mentions for exemplary research efforts in STEM disciplines.

Spenser Anderson ’16 is an engineering major who spent that last year and a half working with engineering Professor Zee Duron continuing the development of a new technique for the dynamic testing of civil structures. Anderson’s research applies a large impulsive thrust load to the structure and records the vibration response, with the goal of using this data to validate finite element models, predict earthquake performance and detect cracks.

“My research work has been a great opportunity for me to gain some exposure to the civil engineering community and to learn how to work in an environment where problems don’t have clear answers,” says Anderson. “But it’s always nice to see that someone else also appreciates the work you’ve done.”

After graduation, Anderson will pursue a PhD in civil engineering and wants to continue conducting research in structural dynamics.

Shannon Wetzler ’16 is a joint major in biology and chemistry. Wetzler worked with David Vosburg, associate professor of chemistry, using biomimicry to optimize a 20-step synthesis of an antifungal agent, ultimately simplifying the process down to a four-step green synthesis. Wetzler presented her work at the American Chemical Society Conference, and it has been accepted for publication.

“The research experience was amazing,” says Wetzler. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to think outside of the box and try to solve problems while researching.”

Upon graduation, Wetzler will pursue a PhD in analytical chemistry, focusing on bioanalytics and sensor development.

Madeleine Weinstein ’16 is a mathematics major interested in number theory. Weinstein conducted number theory research at Williams College under the supervision of Nathan McNew, Steven J. Miller and Caroline Turnage-Butterbaugh, generalizing recent results concerning geometric progressions in the integers by considering analogous problems in number fields.

“I’m so grateful to the HMC math professors for their dedication to helping students achieve our mathematical goals,” says Weinstein, whose long-term goal is to earn a PhD in mathematics and teach at the university level. She will continue her work in discrete mathematics research this summer under the supervision of Joe Gallian, professor of mathematics at University of Minnesota, Duluth.

All college sophomores and juniors are eligible to compete for the scholarships, which are awarded on the basis of academic merit. HMC nominates up to four students annually for the Goldwater Scholarship Program. The Department Chairs Committee serves as the nominating body.