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Goldwater Scholarship Award

Physics Junior Stephen McKay Wins Prestigious Scholarship

Stephen McKayStephen McKay (Physics ’21, Mathematics ’21) has been awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship for his excellent work in physics and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship is the most prestigious scholarship awarded to undergraduate students in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering and is given to those students who show exceptional promise of becoming the next generation of research leaders in their fields. Over the past 10 years, only three other Wheaton students have received this award, including a current chemistry student who also got the award this year.

Stephen’s research work in Dr. Darren Craig’s Plasma lab this past summer formed the basis for the research essay that he submitted to the Goldwater Foundation. In his essay he described how his analysis establishes a strong foundation for future plasma research using light emission diagnostics to study the forces and processes governing plasma discharges. His work has also been submitted for publication in a scientific journal.

Besides his excellence in the lab, Stephen also consistently displays excellence in the class room, both in physics and in mathematics through strong analytical skills, and a deep curiosity for the material. After Wheaton, he hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in physics, most likely in high-energy physics or cosmology/astrophysics. He is most excited by research in these fields since they home in on the fundamental nature of the universe we inhabit, the deepest questions of what constitutes reality. He is especially captivated by the question of the identity of dark energy and dark matter, which ties together the large scale structure of the universe with the possibility of new particles in the Standard Model, the smallest known scales of reality. Although the prospect of refining and expanding our knowledge of the world is itself exciting, he is also hopeful that this kind of fundamental research will lead to advances that benefit human life as well, as has been the case with so many other scientific discoveries, regardless of whether they had any foreseen application.

Stephen’s strong commitment to a research career, his outstanding research work with Dr. Craig and his excellent performance in the classroom rightly drew the attention of the Goldwater Foundation. Congratulations Stephen for this high honor, and also to Dr. Craig for his important work in mentoring Stephen. We’re proud of you and excited to see what your future is going to look like!