Many seniors are planning to travel after they finish college this spring. For Tom Callister ’13, a Physics and Astronomy major, the trip will last longer than most.
Callister has been awarded the Churchill Scholarship, which offers the equivalent master’s degree in Astronomy at Cambridge University in England, earlier this winter after a grueling six-month application process.
Callister is the sixth student from Carleton to earn the scholarship, which is highly coveted in the field of astronomy.
The Churchill Scholarship represents a tremendous opportunity for would-be astronomers, and it is only offered to fourteen students each year. “The application process was intense,” Callister recalled. “I put a huge amount of time into my application,” starting six months in advance. Fortunately, he found help from several different quarters.
“Liz Ciner [in the Student Fellowships Office] and Prof. Susan Singer, the Churchill faculty advisor here at Carleton, were each an enormous source of help. I’m also incredibly grateful to all of my professors in the Physics Department,” especially those who wrote letters of recommendation, Tom explained.
At Cambridge, Tom will study gravitational waves, “ripples in the fabric of space-time” generated by various cosmic events, such as the collision of two black holes.
The gravitational waves in his research with Professor Joel Weisberg, he says, piqued his interest in the subject matter.
“Right now, we’ve learned nearly everything we know about the Universe using only light. This is akin to observing the world with only a sense of sight, unable to hear, touch, taste or smell,” he said.
But gravitational waves “represent a fundamentally new sense with which we can explore the universe” and “hear” exotic objects like black holes and pulsars.
“I definitely hope to pursue gravitational wave astronomy after my year at Cambridge,” he concluded, although he is still waiting to hear back from the various graduate schools he applied to. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to the opportunities he will have at Cambridge.
“Receiving the Churchill Scholarship is an incredible honor. But for me, it also represented the opportunity to explore a brand new field for a year before I began graduate school.”