As a child growing up in Holland Patent, N.Y., Elliott Connors ’16 was intensely interested in how things around him worked: Why did pedaling a bicycle cause the tires to rotate? How did pressing the buttons on a remote change the change the channel to televise another show? Connors initially attributed this to an interest in engineering. However, after enrolling in an engineering program at Le Moyne he realized what he thought was “an overpowering interest in building and creating, although very real, was actually a consequence of (his) greater enthusiasm to understand in detail the fundamental laws of nature and how they manifest in our lives.”
Connors changed course and in May earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Le Moyne. This summer he will continue to explore his passion for discovery. Connors, along with Ryan Bonk ’16 and James Gayvert ’17, was selected for a prestigious Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Since 1993, the SURF program has inspired undergraduate students to promote innovation by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve quality of life.
Connors will be based in Boulder, Colo., Bonk and Cayvert in Gaithersburg, Md. All three plan a career in research. However, their true passion is to engage in work that will aid others.
“Everyone in the research community is working toward making new discoveries and inventions that will better the community and humanity,” said Gayvert, who will be assigned to NIST’s Material Measurement Laboratory and Center for Neutron Research. “I'm not entirely sure where I want to go with things yet, but if I had to speculate it would probably be in computational chemistry. Regardless of what exactly I end up doing, I would like to help further scientific progress.”
Likewise, Bonk, who developed an interest in nuclear physics during his time at Le Moyne, said that he would like to build a career as an engineer or physicist that is centered on making the world a better place. Specifically, he is interested in working with nuclear energy to make it a safe, viable replacement for fossil fuels with the aim of taking some stress off the environment. At NIST, Bonk will work in the Center for Neutron Research using computer simulations to study the passage of neutrons through different materials.
“I hope that through the course of this program I can grow my knowledge of physics and improve my research skills,” he said. “I look at this program as a challenge that will force me to go out of my comfort zone and become a better physicist.”
The students’ success also marks a trend. Over the past six years, six Le Moyne students have received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.
“Success breeds success – not only in that the more students who apply, the more familiar the Le Moyne name becomes, but also the more confident our students are in their very real chances for success,” said Kate Costello Sullivan, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “That said – we seem naturally to attract students who want to do more than only succeed personally (although they do that, too, in spades); we attract students who understand that they are part of a wider fabric, and they stitch their talents and abilities into that wider community. I am confident that our students will use these opportunities not only for their own benefit, but for the greater good.”
For Connors, who has conducted research both at Le Moyne and at the Air Force Research Lab in Rome, N.Y., the opportunity to build on what he’s learned so far about the immutable laws of nature is a natural next step in the progression of his career. As he wrote in his application for the fellowship: “Many of the questions I had in my early years whose incomprehensive explanations left me mentally restless have been answered, but new and more genuine queries, some known and some without resolution, have been birthed in me.”