William Jay |Ball State University
Today you will find me working as a postdoctoral research associate at Fermilab, the United States’ particle physics and accelerator laboratory located near Chicago. My work is in theoretical physics, with a specialization in quantum field theory. The basic question my research tries to answer is: What are the fundamental laws of physics and how do these laws give rise to the rich universe around us?
I began my academic journey at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where I studied physics, mathematics, and German. As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to engage in computational research, working on a rudimentary model of magnetic fields in the brain. This experience helped me understand that numerical studies—thought experiments carried out on computers—can provide special insight into complicated systems. Hoping to apply this lesson to theoretical physics, I was nominated for and received a Goldwater Scholarship in 2011.
After graduating from Ball State and after having been named a Rhodes Scholarship finalist, I completed “Part III of the Mathematical Tripos” at the University of Cambridge as a member of Fitzwilliam College. The tripos is the oldest mathematics examination in the world, dating back the 1700s. I received my master’s degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics from Cambridge in the summer of 2013.
The following fall, I entered the PhD program at the University of Colorado Boulder. I joined the particle physics group and began working on the problem of mass: Why do elementary particles have mass? What is its basic quantum mechanical origin? My research with the Boulder group used large-scale simulations on supercomputers throughout the world. After completing my thesis in spring 2018, I joined Fermilab’s theory group as a postdoc, where I am continuing to refine my computational skills.
The Goldwater helped me in at least two very important ways. First, it gave me confidence that I could participate in scientific research at the highest level and that I had what it took to be successful in a PhD program. Second, I’m certain that the Goldwater opened doors for me in the competitive world of graduate school admissions.