Third Williams student in recent years wins Apker award in physics

11/29/04

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Nov. 29, 2004 – Recent Williams College graduate, Nathan Hodas '04, has been awarded the 2004 American Physical Society's Leroy Apker Award for achievement in undergraduate physics. He joins Brian Gerke '99 and S. Charles Doret '02, becoming the third Williams student within six years to win the prize.

Two Apker Awards are presented each year, one to a student from a Ph.D. granting institution and one to a student from a non-Ph.D. granting institution. Students are selected for their excellent academic records and "exceptional potential for scientific research by an original contribution to physics.

"Involving our students in research is very important to me and to other science faculty at Williams," said Daniel Aalberts, the physics faculty member with whom both Hodas and Gerke worked. "Student researchers put the skills they've learned in the classroom into practice, get a chance to be creative, take the lead on substantial projects, and become experts. Nathan is a shining example of what happens with hundreds of Williams students here each year."

Finalists for the Apker Award must give a half hour oral presentation at the APS headquarters, a rigorous examination that can overwhelm even the most prepared students. Protik Majumder, chair and associate professor of physics at Williams College said that despite the pressure of the situation, "the feedback we get is that the quality of our students' talks – articulateness, mastery of subject, organization – stands out even among this tough competition."

"Winning the Apker Award is like winning the Heisman Trophy for physics students," said Majumder. "No other small college has three winners to its credit. It is a credit to the emphasis on student-faculty research at Williams, but most of all to the remarkably high caliber of physics majors that we have had in recent years."

The only other educational institution to have more than one award recipient within the last six years is Princeton University, which had one recipient in 2000 and another in 2004.

Hodas is at the California Institute of Technology, working on a Ph.D. in physics. At Williams, he won the Howard P. Stabler Prize in Physics. His senior thesis was on "The stacked or freely jointed chain: single-stranded stacking in nucleic acids." The APS also recognized his work towards creating a fast RNA binding algorithm and his multi-lane traffic simulation project.

Gerke is pursuing further physics study at the University of California, Berkeley. He was awarded the 1999 Apker Award for his senior thesis, "Ultrafast Photoisomerization Dynamics: A Tight-binding Model Applied to Small Alkenes."

They worked with Associate Professor Aalberts, whose interest is in studying the physics of biological polymers with statistical and computational physics techniques. He received his S.B. and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Majumder was Doret's senior thesis advisor, and they and three others were co-authors of "Measurement of the Stark Shift in the 6P1/2 ‡ 7S1/2 378nm Transition In Atomic Thallium," ultimately measuring the Stark shift with 0.4% accuracy, published in "Physics Review A" in 2002. Majumder's research focuses on precision measurements and tests of fundamental physics using atoms. He received his B.S. from Yale and his Ph.D. from Harvard. Doret, the 2002 award winner, is studying at Harvard University.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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