Major Monday: Joint Math and Physics

An interview with Savanah Diaz, senior joint Math-Physics major!

How did you pick your major?

I actually came to the Mudd thinking I wanted to do the Joint Chem-Bio major, but I took advantage of the Core by paying attention to each course in every field. I realized that I really enjoyed my math and physics courses more than anything else. It was hard for me to realize that I enjoyed math and physics in high school because I felt very different and there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me in my high school STEM classes. I am grateful for the good experiences I have had a Mudd with math and physics classes and I really enjoy the major now.

How has your major advisor been helpful?

I’ve had really good experiences with both my advisors, Prof. Su (math) and Prof. Esin (physics). I took a summer course with Prof. Su actually, he was a great teacher and it was a course on game theory. Prof. Esin’s always been a sweetheart and I feel like even when I’m at my lowest or I need help, I know that there will always be a shoulder to lean on.

Have you done research inside of the math or the physics departments?

I actually have not. I’ve only done research in the biology and engineering departments.

What did your research in those departments look like?

In the bio department, I was with Prof Schulz working on her project on the African Trypanosome, which is the parasite that causes sleeping sickness. She does research on drug therapies and which ones are the best in disturbing the parasite cell cycle. Currently I’m in Prof Bassman’s engineering research group. She studies novel stainless steel substitutes and I’m working on my thesis with her, which is super exciting. I’ve been with her for almost two years now, so it feels good to have my own work and be writing about it now.

What is your thesis project?

It is an electronic structure analysis of the novel stainless steel substitute that we’re working with. What’s cool about it is that once you add aluminum to the structure, it becomes very tactile. Without aluminum it’s a very brittle unusable material. So, for the past year and a half or two years I’ve been studying why aluminum does that, and it’s come down to what I’m doing now with electronic structure analysis.

What has been your favorite major class?

Definitely quantum physics with Profs Esin and Shuve. I think the way that they laid out the material was so awesome and the textbook for that course is so well written. I feel like it was just one of those textbooks where you could literally read for fun, it was that great. I really, really enjoyed that course and it really teaches you counterintuitive stuff that I found so interesting.

Is there anything that surprised you about the Joint Math-Physics Major?

I guess the amount of labs. I didn’t think that there would only be two to fulfill the major, whereas the physics major you need an additional two. I think I was just a bit surprised that there were so few labs.

What has been your favorite non-major class?

Probably God, Darwin, and Design with Prof Dyson last semester. It was a class on a subject that I’d never really thought about, intelligent design, and I really liked it. I learned a lot about this field that felt really cool to dive into.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I’m applying for PhD programs in economics. I’m excited to use the math part of my major to really get into that.