Jessica Kirkpatrick Wins Marshall Scholarship
Jessica Kirkpatrick of Albany, Calif., a 2002 Occidental College graduate, has been awarded a prestigious Marshall Scholarship to pursue a doctoral degree in particle astrophysics in England.
She hopes to enroll at the University of Sheffield, one of the major centers for the study of dark matter.
The $30,000 award is payable over two years. Kirkpatrick will begin her studies in October 2003.
Kirkpatrick joins 2000 Occidental graduate Justin Anderson of Tigard, Ore., in becoming the sixth and seventh alumni since 1972 to win a Marshall Scholarship. The twin feat is a first at Occidental, a private liberal arts college, and is all the more impressive in that Marshall winners typically are from large research universities.
Kirkpatrick, who earned a physics degree at Occidental, says she will continue her research into dark matter, a substance that dominates the universe, yet hasn’t been seen or detected. With the aid of a National Science Foundation research grant, Kirkpatrick in 2001 spent six months at the University of Sheffield building a dark matter detector that will be installed in a northern England salt mine. She has been working in collaboration with Daniel Snowden-Ifft, an assistant professor of physics at Occidental.
Kirkpatrick plans to take part in the University of Sheffield’s Directional Recoil Identification From Tracks (DRIFT) Project, which concentrates on the discovery of weakly interacting massive particles, a leading dark matter candidate. Several research groups have unsuccessfully attempted dark matter detection over the past two decades.
Also in 2001, Kirkpatrick won a $7,500 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship given to college seniors interested in pursuing careers in math, science and engineering fields. She ultimately hopes to become a research professor and head a large research group with international ties.
“I am fascinated by the translation of the enormously complex workings of the universe into equations, models, and theory,” Kirkpatrick said. “It is my professional goal to contribute to this body of language and inspire others to share in this sense of wonder and enthusiasm. Working on the DRIFT project has fueled a desire in me to push the boundaries of science.”
Kirkpatrick is now a post-baccalaureate research associate and an adjunct laboratory instructor at Occidental. Her research duties include authoring data analysis computer programs and serving as the primary data analyst for the DRIFT collaboration. She also teaches three sections of mechanics laboratory classes.
“Jessica is a marvelous example of what brains and hard work can achieve,” said Larry Caldwell, the Cecil H. and Louise Gamble Professor in Political Science. “She is a physicist who has already worked near the cutting edge in research on dark matter. She was a student leader at Oxy and developed a great mentoring program working with students who have trouble learning in the sciences.”
Up to 40 Marshall Scholarships are awarded each year to American citizens who have graduated from a four-year college or university. The scholarships were founded by an act of Parliament in 1953 to commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan – the American program to rebuild a ravaged Western Europe following World War II.