Michael R. Zengel | Outstanding First Year Physics Student

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

Favorite Experience: The Randall Research Program has been both an exciting honors program and a great community overall. In this program, students learn different computing and research techniques that can be applied to undergraduate research. In my freshman year in the program, I’ve been introduced to some research and computing techniques that will be useful in my undergraduate research. In addition to the academic benefits, this program has also introduced me to a wonderful group of peers that I’ve become very close with. In other words, it’s been a community of academically like-minded people that has benefited me greatly and made college much more enjoyable. From hanging out and doing work together to going to a movie dressed in suits for no reason, it’s been an incredible experience that I don’t know how I could handle college without.

Favorite Class: PH 255 or Introduction to Modern Physics is a sophomore level physics course in which students are introduced to the newer discoveries of physics that are more prevalent in popular culture. These topics include a cursory explanation of special relativity and an introduction to quantum mechanics, which touches on the quantum model of the atom. What made this course so exciting for me was that I was able to finally do problems relating to physics phenomenon that I have found interesting for years, but which were lightyears ahead of me in terms of computation. For example, ever since I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell, I’ve been interested in quantum mechanics but lacked the skill and formal instruction necessary to understand the concepts completely. Though I still do not fully understand the full breadth of these topics, being able to do any problems relating to them was exciting. It was like I was achieving a dream of mine. Another thing that this class did was ensure me that I did actually want to study physics. After years of thinking conceptually about physics, a part of me was scared that my interest would disappear in the face of actual problems, even though I also enjoyed the math. However, after taking this class, my love of physics was only cemented. I know now, more than ever, that I want to, and more importantly am able to, continue studying physics.

Future Plans: After completing my undergraduate degree in physics, I intend to pursue a PhD and eventually become a professor in physics