Wilkinson named runner-up for Society of Physics Students research award

Collin Wilkinson
Collin Wilkinson

Collin Wilkinson ’18 has been named runner-up for a 2017-18 Society of Physics Students Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award.

Selected from a highly qualified pool of applicants, Wilkinson will have the opportunity to contribute to the 2019 issue of the Journal for Undergraduate Reports in Physics. He and the Coe College Society of Physics Students chapter also received monetary awards from the Society of Physics Students National Office.

Wilkinson worked with Coe Associate Professor of Physics Ugur Akgun and a team of Coe students to develop a device capable of tracking dirty bombs.

"One of the foremost security risks to the U.S. and our allies right now is dirty bombs. They're explosives with radioactive material that can render all of the surrounding area too harmful to use," Wilkinson explained. "These bombs give off several kinds of radiation, all of which can be blocked except for neutrons. What we did was design a new glass and detector that can find the neutron radiation and track its origin."

State-of-the-art glass research facilities are fundamental to Coe's internationally recognized Physics Department. Students work alongside award-winning faculty, collaborating on published papers and conducting research at labs around the world.

"My professors built me into a scientist," Wilkinson said. "Dr. Akgun hired me for my first two summers, then didn't mind as I proceeded to have a dozen side projects with each of the other professors. When it came time for an internship, they wrote recommendations and helped me find a position at the Max Planck Institute in Hannover, Germany, working on gravitational waves."

Noting the LIGO experiment at the Max Planck Institute received a Nobel Prize four months after Wilkinson joined the team, Akgun said, "Collin Wilkinson is the most talented computational undergraduate researcher I have ever seen."

Wilkinson, the son of Jim and Gina Wilkinson of Mount Carroll, Ill., also conducted research as a FUTURE in Biomedicine research fellow and National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates fellow while completing his undergraduate degree in physics at Coe. He published eight peer-reviewed papers and presented at multiple national and international conferences.

Wilkinson is pursuing a graduate degree through the Penn State Material Sciences and Engineering Department. Since 1979, 100 percent of Coe physics majors accepted to grad school have received full scholarships, fellowships and stipends.

"There is no way I would've graduated, let alone made it to a Big Ten university for grad school, if Dr. Akgun, Dr. Firdevs Duru, Dr. Mario Affatigato and Dr. Steve Feller had not been there every step of the way pushing me and helping me grow as a person and scientist," Wilkinson said.

"I am sure we will hear about his success as a researcher in the near future," Akgun said.

The Society of Physics Students Outstanding Undergraduate Research Award is given to students who demonstrate exceptional research achievement in any physics-related field. Strong research skills, innovative and original thinking and promise for future study are taken into consideration.

Coe's nationally acclaimed Society of Physics Students chapter brings speakers to campus and provides opportunities to visit industrial, academic and national labs.

Coe College offers superb academics and exciting co-curricular activities in a thriving urban setting that promotes student growth and success. Established in 1851, Coe has a national reputation for academic excellence enhanced by a student-centered, highly supportive campus environment. Coe's vibrant Cedar Rapids location provides an abundance of internships for students and career opportunities for graduates.

Media Contact: Natalie Milke, 319.899.8734

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