Matthew Parsons, Physics '16
Please tell us a little about yourself
I am a senior in the physics department concentrating on mathematics, and am also enrolled in the Pennoni Honors Program. I am currently the Secretary of the Drexel Chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS), and am a member of Drexel Cru, Fossil Free Drexel and the Drexel Math Student Organization. I also do volunteer editorial work with the American Physical Society as the Electronic Media Editor for the Forum on Physics and Society. This past year I also trained for and successfully completed the 2014 Philadelphia Marathon (4:11:48)!
Have you received any awards or scholarships while here at Drexel?
Here at Drexel I have been recognized by the Department of Physics with the Walter R. Coley Award (2012) and the M. Russell Wehr Award (2013). Last year (2014) I was recognized as an Honorable Mention for the national Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship (2014), obtained a Steinbright Corporate Partners Fund scholarship from the Steinbright Career Development Center at Drexel and was awarded a research position at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory through the U.S. Department of Energy's Summer Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program. I also just found out that I have been accepted to the SULI program again, which will provide partial funding for me to return to Princeton for my final coop as well!
How was your co-op experience?
I spent my first coop at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) working with the Material Measurement Laboratory. The title of “physical scientist” offered me the opportunity to do everything from materials analysis and electrochemistry to software development and numerical analysis, not to mention working at a nuclear reactor. I was very intimidated to be working for a chemistry group when I began, but I soon found that I was well-prepared and that I even had some of my own unique skills to complement the work of an analytical chemist.
The single, largest project that I worked on at NIST was actually not an assignment but a project that I developed out of personal interest. While reading through the literature to learn all the details I could about the experimental technique I was using, I came up with an idea for an iterative procedure for refining the analysis results. I ended up developing a software package to implement my ideas, which has led to a few invited talks, including one at the American Nuclear Society’s Winter Meeting (2013), and potentially a single-authored publication.
I spent my second coop working at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) where I was able to conduct research in support of the development of fusion energy. PPPL is one of the U.S. Department of Energy's national laboratories and is host to one of three major magnetic fusion devices in the country. I had the opportunity to get into some serious computational physics work, which included parallel computing, software development, running simulations and analyzing data. The research gave me the opportunity to present at an American Physical Society conference, and I have been able to continue collaborating from Drexel to complete my senior thesis. My thesis makes use of a numerical code to calculate plasma transport quantities such as particle and heat fluxes. I then compare the simulation results to predictions from various models and also to experimental data from the National Spherical Torus Experiment. I will be returning to PPPL to complete my final coop this coming spring and summer (2015), where I will be looking into the use of machine learning techniques for predicting plasma disruptions in magnetic fusion reactors.
Drexel and the Physics Program
I was asked to comment about what has made my experience at Drexel unique, why I would recommend the physics program here and what advice I would give to a high school student looking for an undergraduate program, but the answer to these questions really all go together.
The obvious answer for the uniqueness of Drexel is the coop program. If you have heard anything about Drexel, that’s it, and for good reason. The opportunity to commit yourself full time to work in the field you are studying is invaluable for helping you decide what path you want to head down with your degree. Speaking practically, you want to find an undergraduate program that will prepare you for a career and help you stand out as a job candidate. The best preparation for a career is simply experience, and nothing makes you stand out more than having worked full time in the field you’re studying. In that regard there is nothing that compares to a coop program.
I think Drexel’s program is also unique in a few other ways. In comparison to other universities, the department does an excellent job in providing students with computational skills that are invaluable in every area of STEM and beyond. What I like best about the program is probably the ability to customize your schedule. I have been able to take a variety of classes outside of my core requirements, including piano lessons, French, materials engineering and graduate-level math courses, and I know for certain that universities operating on a semester system do not offer students the flexibility to do that. The Physics Department also just went through the process of revamping their curriculum, so it will be even easier in the future for students to sample classes outside of the physics department to explore other things.