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Courtesy of Grace Sommers ’20


Grace Sommers ’20 has been awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, an annual award established by the United States Congress in recognition of outstanding undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering.

A resident of Bridgewater, N.J., Sommers is concentrating in physics and pursuing certificates in applied and computational mathematics, applications of computing, and Roman language and culture.

Sommers is one of the 496 winners of the 2019 Goldwater Scholarships who were selected from 1223 students nominated by 443 academic institutions.

Sommers said that she is currently interested in theoretical condensed matter physics. She intends to pursue a Ph.D. in physics after graduation and eventually a career in academia.

Established in 1986 in honor of former U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, the Goldwater Scholarship recognizes undergraduate students who have performed outstanding academic work in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering and plan on pursuing careers in one of those fields.

The Goldwater Scholarship awards up to $7500 in tuition, fees, room and board.

Since the award’s inception, Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 92 Rhodes Scholarships, 137 Marshall Scholarships, 159 Churchill Scholarships, and 104 Hertz Fellowships, among other distinctions.

In addition to winning the Goldwater Scholarship, Sommers has also been the recipient of the Freshman First Honor Prize and the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize.

Mariangela Lisanti, an assistant professor in the physics department, advised Sommers on her first junior paper, which studied the behavior of dark matter within the context of the growth of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Lisanti expressed that she was not surprised by the news of Sommers winning the Goldwater Scholarship and remarked on her student’s exceptional work.

“Grace is definitely one of our star students,” said Lisanti. “Both her academic accomplishments and research accomplishments certainly merited the award, so I was really happy that the selection committee agrees with that.”

Sommers said that she chose to work on the project on dark matter because of her “really good advisor,” referring to Lisanti, and that she enjoyed working with both physics equations as well as programming and running analyses.

“From retrospective as an undergraduate who wants to do theoretical physics, the learning curve is kind of steep, so often times people would have to work in a lab, which I didn’t want to do,” said Sommers, “so computational work is a pretty good bridge to do something that’s not a lab.”

Herman L. Verlinde, the Class of 1909 Professor of Physics and the chair of the Department of Physics, advised Sommers on her second junior paper, which studied the Ising Model, a mathematical model describing magnetism that — at a critical point with added interactions — can produce a phenomenon resembling gravity.

“She really gets to the bottom of the question,” stated Verlinde. “I know if she goes graduate school, she’ll continue to stand out.”

Verlinde also noted that the scope of Sommers’ second junior paper is greater than what is usually studied in a junior project. 

In addition to Lisanti and Verlinde, Sommers also thanked some of the other mentors who have impacted her. She thanked Branko Glišić, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Rebecca Napolitano, a graduate student in civil and environmental engineering; Oren Slone, an associate research scholar at the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science; Lyman A. Page, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics; and Silviu Pufu ’07 *11, an assistant professor of physics.

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