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Carleton College’s Callister Earns Churchill Scholarship

January 29, 2013

Northfield, Minn.––Thomas Callister ’13 (Sagle, Idaho) of Carleton College has been named one of the 14 Churchill Scholarship winners nationwide. The award gives him a full scholarship to earn his master of philosophy degree at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University, focusing on gravitational wave astronomy.

Callister, the first Idahoan to win a Churchill Scholarship in the nearly 50-year existence of the program, was one of only two liberal-arts college students among the 14 scholarship winners.

This marks the second straight year that Carleton has produced a Churchill Scholarship winner, as fellow physics major and astronomer Michael Coughlin ’12 (Burnsville, Minn.) won the award a year ago. Both were the only student from a Minnesota college or university to win the award, worth between $50,000-60,000, depending on the international exchange rate. It covers all academic fees, a living allowance, and travel. 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.

While Callister is mostly interested in gravitational waves, this past summer he held a National Science Foundation undergraduate research position at the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) department of physics and astronomy, developing and running software to study the elliptic flow of quark-gluon plasma created in uranium-uranium collisions at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. He’s also held a research position at Carleton under Joel Weisberg, the Herman and Gertrude Mosier Stark Professor of Physics and Astronomy and the Natural Sciences. The research with Weisberg included a stint at the Australia Telescope National Facility, observing pulsars with the Parkes Radio Telescope.

Callister also earned a Goldwater Scholarship last year.

Outside of his science work, Callister has performed as a member of Carleton’s Symphony Band, Orchestra and smaller, student-led chamber ensembles. He’s also a member of Carleton’s competitive ballroom dancing club. He used his expertise in technology to help found Carleton’s Assistive Technology (AzTech) program within the College’s information technology services department. The group works to increase availability of and support for assistive technologies across campus, including text-to-speech and speech-to-text software. The program is nearly 100 percent student-directed.

Callister is the son of Shannon and Thomas Callister of Sagle, Idaho. He attended high school at Walla Walla (Wash.) High School.

Callister is the sixth Carleton student to receive the Churchill Scholarship. He hopes to earn his Ph.D. in astrophysics and eventually work at a leading research university studying gravitation and cosmology. Depending on future advances in the field, he envisions using gravitational waves to investigate objects such as black holes and cosmic strings.