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Coughlin '12 Wins Prestigious Churchill Scholarship

February 8, 2012

Northfield, Minn.––Michael Coughlin ’12 (Burnsville, Minn.) of Carleton College has earned one of the 14 Churchill Scholarships, providing him a full scholarship to earn his master’s degree at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University. It is awarded to graduating seniors and recent graduates demonstrating exceptional academic talent, outstanding personal qualities, and a capacity to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the sciences, engineering, or mathematics. 

Coughlin is the lone student from a Minnesota college or university to earn the award, worth between $45,000-50,000, depending on the exchange rate. It covers all fees (currently about $25,000). In addition, Churchill Scholars receive a living allowance of up to about $17,000, depending on the length of the program. For nearly half a century, recipients of the Scholarship have become leaders in a wide range of fields, from finance to pharmaceuticals, working in university laboratories as well as industry.

Coughlin, a mathematics and physics major, has focused his undergraduate research on gravitational waves (GWs), using data from observatories in the United States and Italy to research the accuracy of various models of GW emission from Gammy Ray Bursts, emitters of high energy photons. The Churchill Scholarship will allow Coughlin to “not only understand the physical processes that create GWs but also the tools with which to detect them.” Coughlin has participated in summer REU research projects at the Virgo Gravitational Wave Detector in Italy and at the California Institute of Technology, as well as undergraduate research at the University of Minnesota. He’s also organized a research group at Carleton, mentoring younger students, and has authored three and co-authored seven professional, scientific journal articles. Coughlin is a multi year Dean’s list recipient, Carleton Distinguished Scholar, Carleton National Merit Scholar, Patricia V. Damon Scholar, Kolenkow Reitz Physics Research Fellow, 2011 Goldwater Scholar-Honorable Mention and member of Sigma Xi.

Outside of his academic and research interests, Coughlin is an active member of the College’s social dance club, the salsa and Latin dance club, and competes as a member of Carleton’s competitive dance team.

Coughlin is the fifth Carleton student to receive the Churchill Scholarship. His long-term goals include earning a Ph.D. in physics/astrophysics and working at a NASA facility or a national laboratory as an experimental physicist investigating cutting-edge problems in astrophysics and cosmology, utilizing newly developed technology to explore the universe.