Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing
Nov 29, 2012
By Brian Vadakin
Ohio University senior Keith Hawkins has conducted astronomy research at several top observatories in the United States, including at Mauna Kea in Hawaii last summer, but his recent selection as a
Marshall Scholar will allow him to continue his work on a different island – Great Britain.
The British Government recently named Hawkins, an astrophysics major in the Honors Tutorial College, as one of 36 winners of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship. He becomes the fourth Ohio University student to win the award and the first since 2007.
The scholarship will fund Hawkins' doctoral research at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy. Winners from the Midwestern United States are chosen by the Marshall Scholarship Selection Committee at the British Consulate-General in Chicago.
"Cambridge has one of the most active astronomy departments in the United Kingdom. It also has a large group working with stellar astrophysics, which is one of my primary interests," Hawkins said. "And then it goes further. Cambridge is playing a pretty large role in the [European Space Agency's] Gaia mission. It's the perfect fit and it's the perfect time to be going to Cambridge."
Hawkins' successful application for the Marshall Scholarship comes after his illustrious undergraduate career. He has done research at the MDM and National Optical Astronomy observatories in Arizona, the California Institute of Technology, and the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii.
"I think [Hawkins] is very good in class, but he's even better in picking up the skills that you need to do the research and be focused on that and get results out," said Markus Böttcher, professor of physics and astronomy. "It's also the way he expresses his thoughts. If you hear him give a talk, you would think he's a tenured professor, the way he presents his information."
When Böttcher first met Hawkins, he was in his sophomore year of high school — though that didn't stop him from gaining recognition for his research. Böttcher judged Hawkins' project on black holes in Ohio's State Science Fair and they promised to keep in touch.
That introduction led to research collaboration while Hawkins was in high school and after he entered Ohio University. Though Hawkins has focused on different research topics during the last four years, black holes remain an interest.
"I'm still moving in black hole physics, it's just in relation to how stars behave around them," he said, noting that his work last summer pertained to hypervelocity stars, which are formed by interactions with black holes.
While those who know Hawkins agree he deserves the recognition for his accomplishments, he credits the Honors Tutorial College, his mentors and his friends for helping him at Ohio University.
"In terms of my college experience, I can say that the Honors Tutorial College has been the best college I've ever seen," Hawkins said. "What keeps me happy here is the friends I have and the environment."
Hawkins regularly cycles along the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway, often riding 50 to 60 miles per weekend. He said he also enjoys hiking in the Zaleski Forest and other local parks.
As a student, Hawkins is defined by the unusual amount of research he has done, as well as his foresight and maturity, said David Drabold, distinguished professor of physics and director of studies for the HTC physics and astrophysics programs.
"This is somebody who — from the absolute beginning — had a proclivity for research," Drabold said. "One of the things about Keith that is exceptional is that he's always thinking; he's always planning. His attitude and his planning are really unusually mature."
Hawkins plans to return to the United States and continue researching after his work at the University of Cambridge. Eventually, he aspires to be a faculty member who focuses on public policy and advocacy to encourage minority students to study science.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see him as a very distinguished faculty member," Drabold said. "In fact, I'll be surprised if we don't see him on television shows like NOVA."
Hawkins' recognition is well deserved and reflects well upon the larger university community, said Ohio University President Roderick McDavis.
"Keith advocates passionately for minority participation in science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines and is a respected student leader," McDavis said. "Everyone who meets Keith is captivated by his enthusiasm for science, and struck by his humility and maturity. He is very deserving of this honor, and his achievements are a wonderful representation of the promise of Ohio University."