I recently caught up with Kevin Howard, winner of Dr. Lee N. Minier Science Scholarship, the Jerry Martillotta Scholarship, and the Smith Challenge.
I found it very touching and surreal to read Kevin's email, because he sounded so much like my dad, Lee Minier. I think Dad would be very proud and honored that we have awarded the scholarship in his name to such intelligent, genuine, and ambitious students such as Kevin.
Here's what Kevin had to say:
“I am in the second year of the physics PhD program at the University of Notre Dame. Here, I research nuclear structure by experimentally studying how various nuclei respond to excitations in different reactions. These excitations specifically are known as giant resonances, and from them I study how incompressible given nuclei are. That is to say, by studying the strength of these resonances, I determine whether nuclei are naturally soft, like a ball of Play-doh, that can be easily squeezed; or hard, like a rock. This is important for various astrophysical models that describe behaviors of supernovae and neutron star evolutions, and are extensible to give insight into applications of nuclear physics to heavy ion reactions (which are becoming increasingly relevant in the medical field).
The experiments that we do to study this are usually conducted abroad, in Japan. I recently returned from the Rare Isotope Beam Facility at RIKEN, a very state-of-the-art laboratory located in Wako - a suburb just outside of Tokyo - where I spent two weeks or so with Japanese collaborators. I also regularly do work at and visit the Research Center for Nuclear Physics at Osaka University in Japan, Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago, and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University.
Altogether, physics PhDs take approximately 5-7 years to complete. I am hopeful that I will finish sooner rather than later - but we will see where this research takes me and what comes from it. I ideally would like to springboard myself into a research postdoctoral fellowship after my time at Notre Dame; my long term goal is to be hired as tenure-track faculty as a research institution where I can continue studying nuclear physics with a research group of my own.”