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Undergraduate Student Awards



Aria Salyapongse Embarks on Fulbright Adventure

Aria Salyapongse, who graduated this May with a B.S. in physics and a concentration in astrophysics, received a Fulbright award to teach English in Thailand.

The Fulbright program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, aims to improve cultural diplomacy and understanding between Fulbright scholars and their international hosts.

Salyapongse applied because she enjoys helping people learn and because of her connection to Thailand.

“I have been a teaching assistant all of my years at CMU, and I really liked it. I’ve tutored in physics, chemistry, mathematics and English,” she said.

Salyapongse’s grandfather was born in Thailand, and she has visited Thailand for family reunions. Most recently, she accompanied her father on a medical mission trip in 2019.

“It was an opportunity to connect with parts of my culture that I haven’t gotten to experience in America,” she said, adding that she enjoyed meeting new people, eating foods similar to what she grew up with and practicing her Thai. “I’m really hoping to continue that kind of cultural exploration and connection when I get back to Thailand.”

Like her father, Salyapongse plans to become a physician.

“I knew coming into CMU I wanted to do physics and go to medical school,” she said. She worked with Jason D’Antonio, director of CMU’s Health Professions program, to set her up for success with her application and MCAT preparation.

Salyapongse said that going to Thailand will help her work on her teaching and communication skills, which will be invaluable in medical school.

“The Fulbright scholarship will allow me to practice working with those of different backgrounds to my own. It will also let me build bridges into the Thai community that will help me work on global health initiatives,” she said.

■ Heidi Opdyke


Ethan Lu Selected as Goldwater Scholar

Junior Ethan Lu received a 2021 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious award that supports students who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, engineering and math.
Lu is pursuing the Mathematical Sciences Honors Degree Program and will graduate from CMU next year with his B.S. and M.S. in mathematical sciences, along with a minor in computer science.

At CMU, Lu is a member of the Geometry Collective. Headed by Assistant Professor of Computer Science Keenan Crane, the group studies digital geometry processing, which has transformed technologies that impact our everyday lives such as depth cameras and 3D printing.

“I enjoy studying mathematics because of how it can combine both abstractness and practicality, which is something I find really beautiful,” noted Lu.

Working with Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Ian Tice, Lu also recently worked to develop a variational-geometric formulation of the equations of motion for fluids with surfactants, which resulted in a journal publication. Surfactants, also called surface-active agents, are substances that help reduce surface tension, making them one of the most versatile products in the chemical industry that can act as detergents, wetting agents, foaming agents and more.

Lu plans to pursue his Ph.D., during which he hopes to continue his research in analysis and partial differential equations, and later become a university professor.

■ Emily Payne

graduate Student Awards


Michael Andrews
Rebecca Rapp

Michael Andrews and Rebecca Rapp Receive Graduate Student Research and Teaching Awards

Michael Andrews

Physics Ph.D. candidate Michael Andrews has received the 2021 Guy C. Berry Graduate Research Award.

“Michael is one of the two best graduate students who I have worked with in my 20+ years at Carnegie Mellon (and I was fortunate to have been able to work with a few really good graduate students),” Professor of Physics and Mellon College of Science Associate Dean for Faculty and Graduate Affairs Manfred Paulini wrote in nominating Andrews for the award.

“My research involves developing and fundamentally rethinking how to apply artificial intelligence techniques in physics experiments by running them on ‘raw’ data instead of the heavily processed variety that more commonly gets used by experimentalists,” Andrews said of his work on the Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at CERN. “These techniques have resulted in breakthrough tools that are enabling the detection of hidden particles once deemed impossible to detect, paving the way to potential new discoveries.”

Rebecca Rapp

Physics Ph.D. candidate Rebecca Rapp’s dedication and enthusiasm made her a clear standout for this year’s Hugh Young Graduate Student Teaching Award.

Over five semesters, she has taught nine sections of Physics I for Science Students and two virtual sections of Physics II for Engineering/Physics Students.

Students admire her ability to indulge the curiosity of incoming physics majors and appreciate her talent to explain physics concepts to non-majors in a way that makes them comfortable and adept at applying the material.

More than once, Rapp has made physics feel like home to students even when they were unsure it was the right path for them, inspiring several students to begin exploring or continue pursuing physics as a major.

As one student put it: “I truly think her calling is to go into academia. She’s incredibly patient and clear and she never gives up on a student. If Becca doesn’t receive a TA award, I don’t know who would.”