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2012 Spring Issue 4 (April 27, 2012)

Carls Win Prestigious Science Scholarship

April 27, 2012
By Anna Jarman

Chemistry major Milan Cvitkovic ‘13 and physics major Tom Callister ‘13 have both won the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is awarded to college sophomores and juniors intending to pursue careers in science, mathematics and engineering. Applicants are asked to submit a mock research proposal and are evaluated based on merit and their potential as future researchers. 

“The scholarship application really seeks to evaluate you as a scientist, to select someone who is a promising researcher,” Cvitkovic said.

Each university nominates four students to compete for the scholarship, which grants a maximum of $7,500 per academic year to cover the costs of tuition, fees, books and room and board.  Nationwide, 282 students won the scholarship this year, including Carleton’s own Cvitkovic and Callister.

As a chemistry major, Cvitkovic’s research is focused on organocatalysis.

“Organocatalysis is the field of trying to make chemical reactions happen in a certain way,” he explained.  In other words, it uses “small molecules to catalyze reactions. It’s another tool in the chemist’s toolkit.”

Cvitkovic has been working with Carleton Professor of Chemistry David Alberg and Associate Professor of Chemistry Gretchen Hofmeister since last summer and throughout this year. His research has involved creating new organocatalysts and exploring new ways to use existing ones. 

“Now, we have really started to move more from the catalysis side to the computational side,” Cvitkovic said. This summer, he will work with Alberg and Hofmeister as well as with Associate Professor of Chemistry Dani Kohen to model their work from last summer. 

Cvitkovic also had the opportunity to conduct research at the University of California, San Francisco last winter break. He attributes his interest in chemistry to his love for problem solving. 

“I think it’s really fun,” he said simply.  “I am interested in solving world and societal problems.  Chemistry especially is a really exciting field to get into if you are interested in climate change and the environment.”

Yet, Cvitkovic says that he did not always plan to focus on chemistry. 

“I am really interested in a variety of scientific fields, including chemistry, math, physics and computer science,” he said.  “The great thing about Carleton is that it allows you to branch out.” 

Cvitkovic plans to pursue a Ph.D. in some field of physical chemistry and eventually go into research.
Like Cvitkovic, Callister’s interests in science are varied. 

“I knew coming to Carleton that I wanted to pursue physics or bio,” he said.  “But I had so much fun in the physics department that that is what I chose to major in.” 

Callister’s research in physics has focused mostly on astrophysics, specifically on pulsar astronomy.  He has worked with Carleton’s Herman and Gertrude Mosier Stark Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the Natural Sciences, Joel Weisberg, for the past two years.  Last summer, Callister accompanied Weisberg to Australia where they worked at the Parkes Radio Telescope and collaborated with researchers at the Australia Telescope National Facility in Sydney. 

“The telescope is one of the largest in the world,” Callister said.  “I was lucky enough to steer it.” 

Callister’s research with Weisberg has focused on neutron stars, “the cores of dead stars after they have exploded in supernova.” 
“They are the size of Manhattan but weigh as much as the sun,” he said with excitement. “One teaspoon of neutron star weighs as much as all people on earth.  Personally, I think that is really cool and really exciting.  It is fun to try to understand them.”
This summer Callister plans to study nuclear physics at UCLA.  In the future, he plans to go to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in some field of physics, either astrophysics or quantum mechanics, and would eventually like to do research full time.
Callister said the scholarship came as a nice surprise. 

“It is very exciting. I was not expecting to win,” he said.  “The Goldwater Scholarship announces the winners on its website.  I would check the site once every five minutes.”

It was actually his dad who saw his name first and called him during class to told him he had won.

Both students said they are honored to have won the scholarship. 

“I’m really flattered and honored,” Cvitkovic said.  “I’m really thankful to the fellowship office and my advisors.  I really could not have won it without the opportunities I have had here at Carleton to do research with David and Gretchen.”

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