Maddie White '09 contemplates the 'final frontier'

Maddie White '09

Why did you decide to major in physics?

I’ve always enjoyed thinking about things larger than the world we live in. It has always fascinated me that we are able to study and understand what is way beyond our physical reach, and I always wanted to be a part of trying to understand that.

I’ve been really interested in being an astronaut since I was in third grade. This got me interested in science and physics, and now that I’m older I’m still trying to pursue my dream of becoming an astronaut.

Tell me about your research projects.

Last year I did an independent study titled “Stellar Structure” under the instruction of physics professor Eric Wollman. We did lab work measuring the properties of stars and light sources. We also derived and applied four fundamental equations for the physical structure of stars, and verified an existing solar model using these four equations.

I’m also writing my thesis in astronomy — more specifically in stellar structure. I’m constructing a computational model of a star, and from there I hope to be able to model some unconventional stars. I’m still working with Professor Wollman.

During summer 2008 you took part in a Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Indiana University in Bloomington. What were you doing?

I did theory work in two-dimensional quantum mechanics — the study of systems of particles on the atomic scale. I was at a desk doing a lot of computer programming. I really enjoyed it. Not only did I learn a lot and get good programming experience, but also was able to see the professional physics field first hand.

What is your impression of the future of women in physics?

At Bates I’ve never experienced any issues with being a woman in physics. While I think there still are people in the physics world who look down on women trying to make their way in that field, my impression is that the vast majority of people don’t consider gender, just the person’s work itself.

I think many of the stereotypes of women in science are being overcome and women are not being judged or held back nearly as much as they used to even 30 years ago. Of course I won’t know any of this for sure until I’m out in the field myself.

What makes you good at what you do?

I’m very persistent and will not give up until I am completely satisfied with my results. This is especially important in the lab. You need to be patient and willing to try things 20 times to get them right. This also helps with long problem sets, because you can’t give up on those until you figure out the answer.

What happens after Bates?

I’d like to attend graduate school and get a Ph.D. In the long run I would like to be doing astrophysical research somewhere.

— by Erin Bond ’09