Physics and math major wins prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

April 14, 2015

An Eckerd College junior with a double major in physics and mathematics has won a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, the most prestigious undergraduate award given in the sciences.

Kevin Thielen of Bradenton is one of just 10 Florida residents awarded a Goldwater Scholarship, created by Congress in 1986 to honor the late Sen. Barry Goldwater. The aim of the program is to encourage students to pursue research careers in science, engineering and math.

Senior marine science major Takoda Edlund received an honorable mention.

Eckerd College students have been awarded 15 Goldwater Scholarships and five honorable mentions in the past 24 years. The scholarships cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

Thielen, a Ford Scholar, was also awarded a Hollings Scholarship that will allow him to intern this summer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. He will be working on a project to design software for a new compact coronagraph in order to provide early warnings of communication-disrupting solar flares.

His research at Eckerd has included a computer model he developed between his freshman and sophomore years with Professor of Physics Stephen Weppner to determine the internal composition and structure of distant planets. The resulting paper is expected to be published in  Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. He already has given a talk on the research at an American physics teachers conference in Orlando.

Kevin also worked with Associate Professor of Mathematics Jianqiang Zhao on topics in number theory. His latest project is with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Nazarre Merchant  on the logical structure of current linguistic theories of  language formation.

An Eagle Scout, Kevin plans to study applied mathematics on the graduate level and teach at the university level. “Without the research experience that’s been made available to me at Eckerd I probably wouldn’t be a math and physics major,’’ he said.

This is the second year in a row that an Eckerd student has won a Goldwater Scholarship. Colleen O’Brien, a senior majoring in marine science and  biochemistry, won last year.

“Winning a Goldwater Scholarship testified to Kevin’s amazing abilities in physics and math,’’ said Associate Professor of Marine Science and Biology William A. Szelistowski, who serves as Eckerd’s Goldwater faculty representative. “This is merely the latest example of the high quality of Eckerd’s science programs and the close working relationships students enjoy with professors.”