Physics and mathematics major William Berdanier has been selected as a Marshall Scholar for 2013 and intends to earn two master’s degrees at Cambridge University through the scholarship.
Berdanier, who will graduate in May from The University of Texas at Austin, is one of 34 scholars from across the nation awarded the scholarship. It covers all expenses for at least two academic years (with a possible extension to a third year) at any university in the United Kingdom.
Berdanier, who plans to eventually return to the U.S. to earn a doctorate in physics, says that he looks forward both to the learning he’ll do in England and to the chance to participate in the culture and the history.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity,” says Berdanier. “To be able to do mathematical physics at Cambridge, in particular, is incredible. It has such history. It’s where Isaac Newton was a professor. It’s also where some of the world’s most famous string theorists are now. It has one of the strongest math departments in the world.”
A native of Boulder, Colo., Berdanier intends to earn a legendary Cambridge University degree, known as “Part III of the Mathematical Tripos,” that covers advanced topics in pure and applied mathematics.
The second degree that Berdanier plans to pursue at Cambridge will be in theoretical physics, the area in which he has distinguished himself as an undergraduate.
“He has extraordinary intellectual depth, as well as an unusual ability to communicate difficult science,” says Sacha Kopp, professor of physics and associate dean for undergraduate education in the College of Natural Sciences. “He is one of our stars and will have a bright future as a leader in the sciences.”
Berdanier’s primary research focus has been in the area of condensed matter physics. During a summer at Princeton University, he investigated methods for using relativistic beams of heavy ions to compress a pellet of fuel to extremely high temperatures and pressures.
“The project he did was exceptionally computationally intensive, and required the rapid mastery of a robust, industry-standard suite of codes and of the analytic theory behind neutralization phenomena,” says Igor Kaganovich, a physicist at Princeton. “Initially, I was unsure if this analytical background would be too difficult for an undergraduate to master in such a short time, especially for one like Will who had had minimal prior exposure to plasma theory. But Will rose to the occasion. He has an extraordinarily creative mind and an outstanding ability to master new and difficult material in a short time.”
In Austin, in the laboratory of physics professor Gennady Shvets, Berdanier has been part of a team working on particle accelerator technologies that might someday help make compact accelerators for a variety of applications such as medical therapy and homeland security.
Berdanier is an accomplished violinist, an Eagle Scout and a NAUI-certified Master Scuba Diver. He’s the winner of numerous scholarships, including the Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate research awards in the nation. He has been a teaching assistant in the research methods course taught to first-year students in the College of Natural Sciences’ elite Dean’s Scholars Honors Program. He is a member of the Dean’s Scholars Council, where he has been in charge of a high school tutoring program and the Distinguished Lecture Series.
Founded by a 1953 Act of Parliament and named in honor of U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the scholarships commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan, and they express the continuing gratitude of the British people to their American counterparts.