Katelyn Cook, a 2019 Houghton College graduate, has been selected as a finalist for the prestigious LeRoy Apker Award. The American Physical Society presents this award each year to two undergraduate physics students in the United States. According to the APS, the Apker Award “recognizes outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students, and provides encouragement to young physicists who have demonstrated great potential for future scientific accomplishment.”
Cook is one of only three students from non-PhD-granting schools to be chosen as a finalist for the Apker Award this year. “[It’s] a very big deal,” said Houghton physics professor Mark Yuly, comparing it to “winning an Olympic medal in physics.”
Cook says she first developed an interest for physics in high school, because it challenged all her preconceived ideas about the universe. She went on to major in physics at Houghton, participating in the Science Honors program and in Houghton’s Summer Research Institute.
Doing Research in Fundamental Nuclear Physics
Cook’s nomination for the Apker Award is based on her research into inertial confinement fusion (ICF), performed in conjunction with Houghton College’s physics department and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) at the University of Rochester. ICF is a method of studying low-energy reactions with a greater precision than what can be achieved through particle acceleration. Cook became involved with the project through Yuly, who extended an invitation to her during her freshman year at Houghton.
“[When he] asked me to his office . . . I was terrified I did something wrong and was about to get in trouble,” Cook recalled. She was relieved to learn that—far from doing something wrong—she’d caught Yuly’s attention as a capable student who he believed would make a worthwhile addition to the research team. From there, Cook participated in ICF research during all four years she spent at Houghton. She has presented her research at various conferences, including the Fifth Joint Meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Nuclear Physics and the Physical Society of Japan, which was held in Waikoloa, Hawaii.
LLE director E. Michael Campbell also shared congratulations for Cook’s achievement. “We are very proud that Katelyn has been selected as a finalist for the APS Apker Award that recognizes outstanding research achievements for an undergraduate student,” said Campbell. “Katelyn’s research at LLE and her education at Houghton College have prepared her for an outstanding career in physics. We greatly appreciate the partnership we have with Houghton and the outstanding students they send to do research at LLE.”
A Promising Young Alum
Since graduation, Cook has been working on nuclear physics research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. She looks forward to attending Florida State University for graduate school, and hopes to pursue experimental nuclear physics and high-energy-density physics as the focus of her PhD research.
“I was extremely blessed to be able to study physics in the type of setting that Houghton offers,” she said. “The way I was able to interact with my professors and classmates to solve problems has taught me a lot and helped me tremendously to be the student I am today.”