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Physics major receives full-tuition scholarship to Princeton University's research program

May 10, 2010
Student also will receive President's Cup Award at commencement ceremony May 16

Senior Sean McGuire, a double major in mathematics and physics, has received a full tuition scholarship and a stipend to conduct research in the Lasers and Applied Physics doctorate program at Princeton University. The award amounts to $65,000-70,000 per year for up to six years.

McGuire, originally from Gresham, Ore., has spent three summers as an undergraduate student conducting research in applied physics. After completing his freshman year, he and Whitworth Associate Professor of Physics John Larkin gave a presentation, "Modeling excited state absorption properties in scattering media," at the Murdock Undergraduate Science Research Conference. In summer 2008, he received an internship to study optics at the University of Michigan.

Last summer, McGuire was accepted to Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory's National Undergraduate Fellowship program to conduct research in plasma physics. After one week at Princeton, where he was enrolled in an intensive crash course on graduate-level plasma physics, McGuire worked at General Atomics, in San Diego. There he researched optical diagnostics of plasma confinement for fusion.

"Scientists are attempting to develop a controlled nuclear fusion power facility. If successful, such a facility would produce more power and less waste than a conventional nuclear power plant," McGuire says. "Unfortunately, it is very difficult to confine the hot plasma that must be maintained for fusion to occur. One approach is to use a magnetic field to confine the plasma. The tokamak is the most popular magnetic confinement device. The lithium beam diagnostic on which I worked measures the current, generated by the motion of ions and electrons, around the edge of the DIII-D tokamak in San Diego."

McGuire presented the research he conducted at General Atomics at last November's 51st Annual Meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics. His presentation earned him an Undergraduate Research Award from the American Physical Society. Kamesh Sankaran, associate professor of physics and chair of the physics department at Whitworth, says he views this award as a reflection of McGuire's thoroughness in understanding and executing his work, as well as a tribute to his effective communication skills.

"Sean has been an exemplary student who has impressed me with his diligence and attention to detail," says Sankaran. "I consider that a very good indicator for his future as a scientist. He juggles a heavy load by majoring in physics and mathematics, in addition to being actively involved with our music program, from which he has received a piano scholarship. He is scheduled to finish both of his majors in four years, while maintaining a cumulative 4.0 GPA. This is a testimony to his discipline and his ability to handle heavy expectations."

McGuire credits his professors, particularly Sankaran, John Larkin, and Professor of Physics Richard Stevens, for providing guidance and a good education to their students.

On May 16, McGuire will graduate summa cum laude from Whitworth. At the commencement ceremony he will receive the President's Cup Award for maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade point average throughout his entire undergraduate education. He is one of six graduates to share this honor in a class of roughly 480 students.

Upon graduating from Princeton with his Ph.D., McGuire plans on working for an aerospace company to help develop aircraft or spacecraft.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 2,700 students, offers 55 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703 or