Physics Spotlight

August 2017
Professor Spotlight

David Kawall

Ph.D., Stanford University

We have chosen Professor Kawall to participate in this month’s Professor Spotlight.  This is due to his research with precision low energy experimental tests using the Standard Model of particle physics. His Research interests in Experimental Nuclear Physics and Experimental Atomic Physics reinforce his commitment to following one’s passion for science.  Please take a moment to review Professor Kawall’s website here.

What is your professional background?  What did you major in and where?  Where did you go to graduate school and for what?  How can your educational background help you teach and mentor students at UMass?

I majored in physics (with a healthy dose of math) at the University of Toronto, then went on to a Ph.D. at Stanford in experimental nuclear physics and post-doctoral positions at Yale in precision muon physics and atomic physics.

This background was helpful for teaching and mentoring students at UMass, as I appreciate the challenges of being an undergraduate in a very large institution. As a post-doc, I worked closely with a few undergraduates on research projects and was in awe of their abilities, enthusiasm, and curiosity, so it was natural to continue at UMass.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?  How did you decide which grad school to go to?  What advice would you have for a student who wants to go to graduate school?

These decisions were based on surprisingly poor reasoning.  I wanted to continue taking classes (love those problem sets!), and wanted to do research in experimental nuclei/particle physics. The place those could be combined, with the biggest accelerator on campus, and plenty of sunshine, was Stanford.

My advice for students considering grad school is to get involved in research as an undergrad. Research is a much wilder and untamed world compared to class work. It can be exhilarating and frustrating. Getting a sense of these things, and the very hard work required is important before committing yourself to a Ph.D.

What is your advice for a student who wants to go to industry?

Our undergraduate program director Prof. Tony Dinsmore and other colleagues have done a fantastic job getting representatives from industry to come to campus to talk about their work. Students should take advantage of these opportunities. They should also ask their advisor and other faculty members where, students they have worked with, have been hired and look at the APS Career Center website. Finally, I’ll pass on a piece of advice from my Ph.D. advisor that you might want to think about: Don’t take a job you’re qualified for.

Briefly, explain your research:

I work on precision low energy experimental tests of predictions of the Standard Model of particle physics.

What class in the undergraduate curriculum is closest to your research?

Phys 556 (Particles and Nuclei) and Phys 440 (ILab).