Danielle Markovich, class of '19

Danielle Markovich, class of '19
Danielle Markovich, class of '19

I am originally from Israel and I moved to Evanston, Illinois when I was in high school. I attended Evanston Township High, where my physics teacher, Dr. Mark Vondracek, was an Illinois Physics alumnus. He was a big influence in my life in general and specifically in my decision to study physics at Illinois. In high school, I knew that I wanted to go into the renewable energy field, but I wasn’t sure which path would take me there. Eventually, I decided that studying physics would give me the best fundamental knowledge to make a difference in this field. Before coming to college, I spent two years in the Israeli Navy as part of my mandatory military service as an Israeli citizen. I served as a Naval Field Observer which required learning to operate radars and optoelectronic devices.

My biggest highlight as an engineering physics major has been participating in the physics-art piece Quantum Rhapsodies. I was introduced to this project by Professor Smitha Vishveshwara after taking her class, Phys 498 ART last spring. I have been painting since I was three years old, and this course gave me the opportunity to combine my passions for painting and physics for the first time. During the class, I painted a piece depicting the quantum world through a surrealistic landscape which was used as a visual projection for Professor Vishveshwara’s play, Quantum Voyages. This year, I was lucky enough to collaborate with Professor Vishveshwara again on the visuals of Quantum Rhapsodies. I created two paintings for the visuals of this production, and I had the opportunity to meet weekly with Beckman’s visualization lab. During the meetings, we discussed ideas for eye-catching visuals that would accurately represent the physics discussed in the piece. I loved this experience because it gave me the opportunity to work closely with experts in many different fields, such as music, theatre, visual arts, and physics. This project opened my eyes to the possibilities that arise from such interdisciplinary collaborations, and it has been a true honor to be a part of it.

The most rewarding part of this experience was sharing the physics that we physics majors are so passionate about in a way that others find beautiful and exciting. My family made it to the premiere of Quantum Rhapsodies at Beckman, and they were in awe of the striking performance and visuals. After the event they asked me many questions about quantum mechanics and it was a real treat to share physics with them in a way I never previously could.

Other highlights have included TAing Phys 498 ART this spring, working as a tutor for the Center for Academic Resources in Engineering, and participating in research for the Mechanical Engineering department and at Argonne National Laboratory last summer.

This fall I will be starting my PhD in Applied Physics at Cornell University, where I will be focusing on renewable energy research in batteries or fuel cells.

Brianna Undzis, class of 2020

Brianna Undzis, class of 2020
Brianna Undzis, class of 2020

My experiences at the University of Illinois have shaped me more than I ever could haveanticipated. I have gained ownership of my education and lifestyle,and that helps me to see my goals more clearly. I have learned lessons and have hadopportunities that will take a lifetime to unpack. My roots in the University of Illinois give me the necessary stability to go out into the world and have a positive impact.

I grew up in Littleton, Colorado, so the mountains area very important aspect of my life. I spent as much time as I could outside hiking, camping, and walking in different parts of the state. I began competitive dance when I was twelve and have not stopped dancing since. My weekdays were spent in school while my week nights were spent dancing for hours on end. This practice of balance in body and mind has become a lifestyle that I continue to honor. In high school, I was a part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program and received my IB diploma. I joined theprogram to challenge myself to learn newideas fromaglobal orinternational perspective—I wanted an education that reaches beyond the borders of the US.

Though the geography of Illinois is quite different, I am happy I chose to attend the University of Illinois as a physics and dance major. Illinois Physics and Dance at Illinois have become my Midwest homes that ground me to thisnewenvironment while encouraging me to pursue my dreams. Through Dance at Illinois, I’ve worked with artists who are reshaping the dance world as we know it and I’ve participated in numerous dance performances, such as November Dance at KrannertCenter for the Performing Arts. At the same time, Illinois Physics has enabled me to develop a vast network of fellow aspiring physicists who simply want to know how and why everything works. The wisdom of my professors in both majors has expanded my perspective and encouraged me to constantly question.The more I learn, the more I am aware of how much I don’t know and want to learn more.

After I graduate, I plan to pursue a PhD in physics so I can continue this cycle and gain more insight about physics. I’m not sure which research areaI want to go into at this moment,but I am considering theoretical astrophysics, atmosphere and space physics, and particles and fields.I will applyto various schools,but my ideal school is the University of Colorado Boulder. While I’m in graduate school,I will continue dancing and will seek out local companies to work with and perform for. I would love to work in a lab doing research that pertains to both Earth systems and physics because these are two of my biggest passions.

Barry Chiang, class of 2020

Barry Chiang, class of 2020
Barry Chiang, class of 2020

Growing up surrounded by forests and green fields, where stars were always hanging high up in the night sky, I have never stopped being amazed by the irresistible charm of nature. It did not take long for me to decide to devote myself wholeheartedly to deciphering the profound simplicity and indescribable beauty of the universe.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign offered me an unparalleled undergraduate experience—it was more than I could have imagined prior coming here. As a senior pursing a triple degree in Engineering Physics, LAS Astronomy, and FAA Music Composition with a minor in Mathematics, I have benefitted much from the school’s flexible curricula, wide variety of disciplines and subjects, and excellent, welcoming faculty members across the campus.

Since my very first week on campus, my physics advisor, Merissa Jones, has been offering me insightful advice with regard to course plans. She helped me through the process of getting triple-degree forms approved. And whenever I stop by her office, she is always kindly making sure I am getting enough sleep and not stressing out too much about classes!

Last summer I started working on a research project with Professor Shelton in the Physics Department. This involves both looking into theoretical particle-physics Axiom particle models and having hands-on computational simulations given a set of cosmological profiles and constraints. We utilize the observational data from the Fermi Space Telescope catalog on Sagittarius A*, the supermassive blackhole at the center of the Milky Way, to test against our photon spectrum predictions from the dark matter annihilation process. The result of this work could serve as a probe into the properties of particles in the early universe, beyond the standard model.

Carla Stelsel, class of 2019

Carla Stelsel, class of 2019
Carla Stelsel, class of 2019

I am delighted to have a physics degree and am extremely pleased that it comes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign! After graduation, I am delighted to say that I will be starting work with Accenture in Chicago in August as a Technology Analyst. This is an entry-level technology consulting position and is a job that I am absolutely thrilled about. I didn't know what consulting was until my junior year at the U of I, and the more I looked into it, the more I realized it was what I wanted to do. I loved that it took the rigorous problem solving and quantitative analysis that I had done in physics, paired it with a full utilization of my strongest soft skills, and suited my extremely outgoing and social personality.

I am grateful to all the teachers, staff, students, etc., that have helped me get to where I am today. As a physics major, I have absolutely loved being a part of the Society for Underrepresented Students (SUPS). It was such a rewarding experience and gave me such an opportunity to grow and learn more about diversity and inclusivity issues. The friends that I have made through SUPS, the Physics Van, and my classes have been some of my closest in college, and I'm so grateful to have met them. I also loved getting to attend an APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP), as it was a great opportunity to meet other women in physics and to learn how they navigated their professional lives.

The classes that I enjoyed the most were PHYS225 and PHYS486 as the material was my favorite: abstract and brain-bendy. I also really enjoyed several of my professors and their classes. PHYS298OWL with Gollin was a great learning experience and was much better for learning python than CS101. I loved getting to go to Gollin's house, too, for pizza parties and just enjoyed how friendly and approachable all my professors were.

Physics Colloquia were another highlight—it was a great opportunity for everyone from undergrads to professors to learn and talk together. I think the department overall has a great spirit of camaraderie and collaboration. I also really appreciated Physics Town Halls, which were a great opportunity for staff, faculty, and students to discuss issues that students are facing in the department. I think that this is invaluable and demonstrates how much the department values improving the student experience.

I have always loved learning, but never identified as a "STEM person” until college. I grew up in Gurnee, IL, and went to an extremely large high school with lots of AP classes, etc. The first time I had any real exposure to physics was my junior year of high school in my AP Physics B class and I LOVED it. It was the first class that I really enjoyed and that really challenged me and my conceptual understanding. I liked it so much I took AP Physics C: Mechanics the following year, immensely enjoying it once again. When I was looking to choose a major, I was interested in all sorts of things but ended up in physics for a few reasons. One, I felt like it was a subject that required all of my effort to succeed and I loved being challenged. Two, it's extremely versatile in terms of career direction. And it was the hardest thing I was interested in (Honestly, I figured that it would always be easier to transfer out than in).

Outside the department, I have enjoyed the plethora of opportunities afforded to me as a physics student. I have been able to speak at my high school about the value of a physics degree and have gotten to help many students navigate the difficult season of picking a college and major. I have loved having opportunities to tutor younger students. Being a physics major has also given me a platform to talk about diversity in STEM and access to a wide range of career opportunities.