Students Earn Education and Research Awards-Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Students Earn Education and Research Awards

The Mellon College of Science’s (MCS) awards for education and research were presented during the college’s Annual Faculty Meeting on April 30. Winners included Andrea Benvin, Rafael Porto, Matthew Szudzik and Claire Tomesch.

Graduate students Andrea Benvin (chemistry) and Matthew Szudzik (mathematical sciences) were named recipients of the Hugh D. Young Graduate Teaching Award. The award recognizes effective teaching by graduate students.

Szudzik, a graduate student in Mathematical Sciences, was praised by students for his passion for the material, his enthusiasm for mathematics, his friendly and approachable demeanor and his genuine desire be a good teacher. “He taught complicated material in a comprehensible, down-to-earth way while creating a good, positive atmosphere,” wrote one student. Another student commented: “Among math majors in various difficult math classes, it has been said, ‘We need a Szudzik for this class’…No matter how difficult the class, if Matthew were the TA we know that we’d be able to do well.” Szudzik was noted for always being well prepared for recitations and for making extra contributions, from submitting novel and interesting test problems to providing supplementary classroom materials. His teaching has inspired students to switch majors (from history to computer science, for example) and to become teaching assistants themselves.

Benvin, a graduate student in Chemistry, has “demystified the scary world of organic chemistry” for her students. Many students commented on her willingness to make herself available day and night, her mastery of material, her ability to explain difficult and confusing material at many different levels and her commitment to helping her students succeed. As one student wrote, “I have never had a TA that has cared so much about my (and other students’) progress and understanding in a class as Andrea does.”  She was also praised for the extensive review sheets and problem sets she prepares. “Most students of organic chemistry were utilizing Andrea’s supplemental material by the end of the semester, regardless of what recitation they were in,” commented one student.  Her impact on undergraduate education also extends beyond the classroom. She mentors undergraduate students in the laboratory, and she also participates in panel discussions for undergraduates about life as a Ph.D. student.

The Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award, which recognizes excellence in research by MCS graduate students, was presented to Rafael Porto. A graduate student in the Department of Physics, Porto was commended for calculating the theoretical interaction between spinning black holes -- a problem that has puzzled theoretical physicists for nearly 80 years. As two black holes approach each other, the effects of gravity cause each hole to deform, resulting in ripples in the fabric of space-time, or gravitational waves. Porto’s contribution to the theory of how these gravitational waves are produced provides a powerful tool for future gravitational wave experiments. According to Physics Professor Ira Rothstein, Porto’s research advisor, Porto “has become a world expert on the subject of gravity, an extremely difficult subject that usually takes years to master.” Porto has published papers in Physical Review D and Physical Review Letters, one of the most difficult physics journals in which to publish.

Claire Tomesch received the Dr. J. Paul Fugassi and Linda E. Monteverde Award, an endowed grant awarded to students conducting research at the Mellon College of Science. Tomesch, a senior mathematics major with a minor in physics, will also earn a master’s degree in mathematical science this year. Her career goal is to conduct research in pure mathematics with an eye towards its application in a variety of areas. Tomesch recently worked on a project at Pacific Northwest National Labs that centered on translating the theory and machinery of cubic lattices into the language of communicative algebra. This work, which she carried out as part of a prestigious 2005 Department of Homeland Security scholarship, is applicable to steganography (concealing a message, image, or file within another message, image, or file), cryptography and data compression. “She brings to her work an appreciation for the nature of mathematical research to be expected from someone with much more experience,” said Russell Walker, teaching professor and associate department head of mathematical sciences.

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By: Amy Pavlak