Math Student Selected for Prestigious Astrophysics Fellowship

Published: December 28, 2017 | Author: Lexi Carter | Read Time: 3 minutes

Morgan Taylor headshotMorgan Taylor’s passion for the universe and her perseverance in the classroom have qualified her to participate in the prestigious Los Alamos National Laboratory Undergraduate Student Program in June. A highly regarded science research internship, Taylor gained remarkable hands-on experience at Los Alamos, which complements her studies in mathematics at Southern Utah University.

Taylor’s perfect academic record and research prowess secured her spot among top applicants competing for one of 24 summer slots at Los Alamos. In addition to SUU, other schools represented will include physics-leaders MIT, Stanford and Caltech.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is the foremost Department of Energy national security laboratory in the nation. Located in New Mexico, the lab’s primary function is nuclear weapon stockpile stewardship; it is birthplace of the atomic bomb. The Los Alamos National Laboratory's state-of-the-art supercomputers are used by laboratory scientists not only to tackle formidable problems in national security, but in open research in areas of chemistry, plasma physics and computational astrophysics.

Taylor had the opportunity to use these powerful computing clusters to simulate the origins of large-scale structure in the cosmos and understand the cosmological origins of the life-giving substance of water. The work involved simulating star formation, tracking supernova blasts, which spray heavy elements through the cosmos, and modelling a chain of chemical reactions in dense interstellar clouds which give rise to this precious requirement for life. Through simulations, the team hopes to increase the understanding of when, where, and how complex molecules such as water form in galaxies. Taylor will work directly with celebrated cosmologist Joseph Smidt.

“Morgan is a terrific example of the driven, high-achieving students we have in the College of Science and Engineering,” said Robert Eves, dean of the College of Science and Engineering and professor of chemistry and geology. “She represented SUU well in this high-visibility numerical physics workshop at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

computing clusters taylor used in her Undergraduate studiesTaylor began her scientific studies in a college physics class her first semester at SUU and never looked back. In what she deems as her most challenging class so far, Taylor became fascinated with physics and the mathematics of the universe.

“I'm amazed at how much of what we know is due to the equations we take for granted,” said Taylor. “I'm beginning to understand how miraculously applicable math and physics are to every aspect of life, and I have a strong desire to understand those applications in greater detail.”

Taylor’s mentors, Dr. Cameron Pace and Dr. Brandon Wiggins, recognized her potential early in the classroom. They have both worked with Taylor on extracurricular research and crafted her course schedule to match top level physics degrees.

Taylor plans to pursue a career in physics research and is forging her own path by enrolling in challenging math, astronomy and physics courses. She maintains a perfect 4.0 GPA in spite of the heavy course load and extracurricular research with Wiggins in massively parallel simulations of protoplanet collisions. She was also recently awarded the outstanding underclassmen award from the math department.

“Professor Wiggins is a wizard,” said Taylor. “Researching with him and Dr. Pace have helped me shape my future aspirations to go into astrophysics research.”

“Morgan's success in securing this internship in light of the workshop's rigorous, three-stage selection process with a search committee of some 12 physicists is total evidence of her academic goals and research prowess,” said Wiggins. “Morgan is amazing and she will go places.”

When she isn’t deep in research, Taylor runs on the Cross Country and Track teams for SUU. She thinks Utah is one of the most beautiful states in the country and loves spending time outdoors.

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