CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Three University of Illinois students have earned national recognition for their potential to contribute to the advancement of research in the natural sciences, mathematics or engineering. Sophomore Dennis Rich was awarded a Barry M. Goldwater scholarship for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 academic years, and juniors John Simonaitis and Rachel Smith earned honorable mentions for demonstrating leadership and academic promise in the fields of science or engineering.
The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Barry M. Goldwater, who served 30 years in the U.S. Senate. The program provides a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to sophomores and juniors from the U.S. who intend to pursue doctorates. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.
The 240 Goldwater Scholars for 2017-18 were selected from a field of 1,286 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Additionally, 307 honorable mentions were named. According to David Schug, the director of the National and International Scholarships Program at Illinois, this represents a 10 percent increase in nominees and a 5 percent decrease in the total number of awards.
Rich, of Bloomington, Illinois, is a sophomore in electrical engineering. He attended the Illinois Math and Science Academy and began researching during his summers in high school. At Illinois, Rich is part of the Campus Honors Program and a Ford Foundation Engineering Scholar. He helps lead an electric race car design team, Illini Formula Electric, and is an active member of Engineers Without Borders. Rich also serves as a math and physics tutor. According to his university nominators, “Rich is earning a perfect GPA in our Top 5-ranked electrical engineering program. Already as a sophomore, he has given national presentations and has multiple publications with different mentors in the works.” Rich plans to pursue a career investigating the nanoscale properties of quantum systems to invent electronics that overcome the limitations of macroscopic scales. The Goldwater scholarship will provide $7,500 annually for tuition, fees, books or room and board for each of the next two years.
Simonaitis, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, attended Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. Since his senior year of high school, Simonaitis has garnered experience in labs at the University of Chicago, Stanford University and Illinois. He is a junior pursuing electrical engineering and engineering physics, in order to both understand how things work at a fundamental level and how to apply this knowledge experimentally. At Illinois, he independently began investigating how to increase efficiencies in perovskite solar cells for low-cost photovoltaics by experimenting with a spray deposition technique developed in the lab of professor Kevin Kim. He is a member of the James Scholar Honors Program in the College of Engineering, where he maintains a perfect GPA. Simonaitis works as a teaching assistant and serves as a project manager for a student-run consulting group. He seeks a career as a professor conducting experimental condensed matter physics research, particularly photovoltaics.
Smith, of Forsyth, Illinois, and a graduate of Maroa-Forsyth High School, is a junior in physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is part of the Campus Honors Program and a vice president of the Society for Women in Physics, where she mentors women and girls considering careers in science. Smith is attending Illinois with the aid of a Stamps Leadership Scholarship. Since her freshman year, Smith has worked in the lab of professor Verena Martinez Outschoorn, where she is currently investigating exotic Higgs decays. Last summer, she researched data from the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider with a faculty member from the University of California, Los Angeles, and in October presented her work at the fall meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Nuclear Physics. Smith previously spent time at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, where she will return this summer. Her career goal is to conduct research in experimental high energy physics or nuclear physics.