Benjamin Nachman ’12, pursuing a triple major in physics, mathematics and economics, added an additional honor to his long list of accomplishments and credentials — which include serving as a Residential Advisor for three years, working as an undergraduate Teaching Assistant in physics courses and founding and presiding over Cornell’s Squirrel Club — when he was awarded, among 14 students in the U.S., the prestigious Churchill Scholarship this year.
Nachman, who was awarded the scholarship for his work in physics, will complete a year of work at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. His program of study will allow him to obtain a Master of Advanced Studies in mathematics, after which he will return to the U.S. to pursue his Ph.D. in physics.
Nachman’s professors at Cornell praised his work ethic and his ability to solve different kinds of problems.
“Ben is a fabulous student — [he is] always really enthusiastic, really fun to hang around and always has given us insightful comments when he attends the group meetings and in the research he is doing with us,” said Prof. Itai Cohen, physics, whom Nachman first met as a junior in his honors electricity and magnetism course.
Nachman is currently researching the dynamics of the breakup of liquid crystal drops as they drip from faucets in Cohen’s lab.
“I think he deserves [the award],” Cohen said. “He’s busted his hump to do so well here, and I couldn’t imagine anyone more deserving.”
Prof. James Alexander, physics, said he has known Nachman since he enrolled in Alexander’s particle physics research course his freshman year. Alexander said he has worked with Nachman in the lab since then investigating different methodologies for measuring the mass of the top quark.
“All of the students here are amazing … It’s one of the things that make teaching at Cornell fun,” Alexander said. “Ben is first among equals. In this amazing peer group, he stands out as being very productive, very energetic very smart … He covers a lot of ground.”
By pursuing studies in different disciplines, especially outside of the classroom, Nachman said he has gained a more well-rounded view of the world.
“Economics, for example, is totally different from physics and math,” he said. “You have a lens for looking at how people behave. In physics, the way you approach problems is different from the way you would approach problems in economics and mathematics. [Physics] gives me different tools for approaching different problems.”
Underlying his accomplishments was a desire to ultimately bridge the gap between the theoretical and experimental aspects of physics, which Nachman said still remain disparate entities. He said he hopes that his research experience and his upcoming year at Cambridge will allow him to help narrow the divide.
Nachman thanked those who he said have helped him get to where he is today — especially his elementary school art teacher, who he said inspired him to his current path.
“When I was starting elementary school, I took art lessons. [The teacher] took the paint brush out of my hand and put a book in it, instead,” Nachman said. “She was like, ‘Ben, you’re a good artist. Your drawings are okay, but you should really read this book about Einstein. This is where you’re going.’”
Nachman, reflecting on the experience, added, “I have a lot to thank her for … I found my future path.”