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Q&A with NSF Winner Jake Hollingsworth 16’

Get to know Physics major, Jake Hollingsworth 16’, the recent recipient of an NSF (National Science Foundation) award! With this award, Hollingsworth will receive a grant to pursue 3 years of graduate study at the University of California Irvine.

Q: How much is the stipend that you received?

A: $34,000/year stipend, plus $12,000/year towards tuition for 3 years of graduate study.

Q: What school will you be attending to conduct your research?

A: University of California Irvine

Q: What inspired your initial interest in physics?

A: Throughout middle school and high school, I would spend days binge watching the Discovery Channel and Science Channel. At this time, shows like The Planets, The Universe, The Cosmos, Wonders of the Solar System, and Through the Wormhole forged my interest in studying physics. Admittedly, I did not finally decide to commit myself to studying physics at Ursinus until the day before my first course selection, as I was also interested in studying Biology or Chemistry. Nevertheless, I am beyond happy with my decision to pursue physics, so I suppose a large part of my interest in physics was gained by studying physics in college.

Q: What is the topic the research you will be conducting at UC Irvine?

A: I plan to use theoretical methods in order to investigate energy transport within atomic and molecular systems, placing particular emphasis on systems of ultracold Rydberg atoms.

Q: Can you put that into layman’s terms?

A: Introductory physics courses often deal with the transport of mass through space. For instance, a Physics 111 student may solve for the height of a dropped ball as time passes. The question, in fundamental terms, is this: if the ball starts at a known height, what is the height of the ball at a later time?

This obsession with transport extends beyond introductory physics courses and into nearly every regime of physics. The object of transport is also generalized beyond a dropped ball; we may wonder about the transport of heat through a pot of water or the transport of charge down a wire. In my research, the fundamental object of consideration is energy within a quantum system. Each atom or molecule within the system is prepared with a certain energy. Then, we ask the same fundamental question: if a system starts with a known energy configuration, what is the energy configuration at a later time?

Often, this is a surprisingly difficult question to answer! Yet, it is very important that we attain the ability to answer it. In particular, if we develop an understanding of how energy is transported through a system, then we will quickly be able to control this transport. This ability to control the flow of energy within a quantum system would be instrumental in the development of a quantum computer, which promises to be exponentially more powerful than modern computers. Additionally, through clever theoretical techniques, this may even reveal interesting properties that have potential applications in the development of novel materials.

Q: What are your future academic/career goals?

A: After attaining a PhD, I hope to become a professor and continue doing research in Atomic, Molecular, and Optical physics.