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By Leah Poffenberger
Six young physicists arrived in Washington, D.C. on August 13 in hopes of taking home an APS LeRoy Apker Award for outstanding achievement in physics by undergraduate students. The Apker Award finalists each presented their undergraduate research to a tough selection committee that must make an even tougher decision: Which talented young researchers most deserve the award.
Each year, two LeRoy Apker Award winners are selected—one from a Ph.D. granting institution and one from a non-Ph.D. granting institution. The award consists of $5,000 to the recipient and $5,000 to the winner’s physics department, a certificate, and funds to travel to an APS meeting to give an invited talk. This year’s finalists vying for the award are: Connor Occhialini (University of Connecticut), Elise LePage (Hamilton College), Eric Cooper (Pomona College), Madelyn Leembruggen (University of Cincinnati), Nicholas Sherman (University of California, Davis), and Zhongying Yan (Bryn Mawr College). All of the finalists will be continuing their physics careers in graduate school this fall.
“All of these finalists would be excellent award winners,” said Laura Greene, APS Past President and Chair of the Apker Selection Committee. “They’ve all presented the highest quality research with originality and scope—just making it here is an accomplishment.”
The finalist presentations represented a wide range of physics research, from the dark matter that affects galaxy rotation to the mechanisms in plants that send seeds spinning. In a series of forty-five minute talks, the finalists explained the research and results that defined their undergraduate careers and fielded questions from the selection committee of ten physicists from varied fields.
The selection committee had the challenging task of assessing which outstanding undergraduate students would receive the Apker Award. Committee members consider the finalists’ original applications—including letters of recommendation and manuscripts of their published work—and their presentation performance. The presentations offered the young physicists a chance to practice sharing their research with a tough crowd of physics critics—a valuable skill for future careers.
Potential for future scientific accomplishment is a major criterion of the Apker Award, which was named in honor of LeRoy W. Apker (1915-1970), an experimental physicist at the General Electric Research Laboratory who studied photoemission of electrons in semiconductors. The award was established in 1978 through an endowment from Jean Dickey Apker.
The winners of the Apker awards will be announced at the end of September, and both award recipients will present their research at either the March Meeting 2019 or April Meeting 2019.
For more on the Apker Award see the APS prize page.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondent: Alaina G. Levine
Publication Designer and Production: Nancy Bennett-Karasik