Physics senior Patrick Donnan made his mark as an academic elite when he was chosen as a 2013 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar , an honor bestowed upon approximately 300 students nationwide each year. The scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the United States for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.
Ever eager for more knowledge and experience in the realm of physics, Donnan, who is also pursuing a bachelor’s degree in music, spent the summer working in Dresden, Germany, at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems under the guidance of Thomas Pohl, leader of the Complex Dynamics in Cold Gases unit.
“I was working at the boundary between plasma physics and atomic physics, studying ultra-cold neutral plasms,” Donnan said. “I had been doing research in atomic physics for a long time, so moving into a different area was challenging. I had new physics to learn.”
Donnan was introduced to Pohl last year at the Undergraduate Session of the Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics.
“I asked if I could come and work for him, and he said yes,” Donnan explained. “I think it’s best if you don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. You have to go and get them.”
Just before the beginning of fall semester, Donnan traveled to Europe again, this time to Scotland where he gave a research presentation on laser cooling anti-hydrogen atoms at the International Conference of Physics Students. Donnan was selected to give a presentation because he is the recipient of a 2013 Society of Physics Students Outstanding Student Award for Undergraduate Research. The award recognized his research efforts in the realm of laser cooling anti-hydrogen atoms, work that was published in the Journal of Physics B: Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics in 2013, his second paper to be accepted for publication in the journal. He has also published papers in the prestigious journal Nature, as well as the New Journal of Physics.
During his time at Auburn, he has taken advantage of numerous opportunities. This year he is the recipient of an undergraduate research fellowship, and he is working under the mentorship of physics professor Jianjun Dong studying phonon-polaritons. He also had an undergraduate research fellowship his sophomore year, and he has conducted research in Auburn’s Department of Physics since his first semester at Auburn. Additionally, he plays bassoon in Auburn’s Symphonic Band, Orchestra, Woodwind Quintet and Bassoon Ensemble, and he is an editor of the Auburn University Journal of Undergraduate Scholarship. This semester he is applying to graduate schools and working closely with Paul Harris, associate director of national prestigious scholarships in the Honors College, seeking additional scholarships.
Donnan has some advice for incoming freshman students: “Start research as soon as you can – that’s how you find out if you really love what you are doing, and it will make you better at your field. You will learn to work on problems that no one knows the answer to, rather than looking in the back of the book to find the answer. Also, don’t wait for opportunities to come to you. There are a lot of resources and cool things you can do – figure out what they are. Both are important to be sure you maximize your time here at Auburn.”