Physics/Mathematics Major One of 275 Nationally to Receive Goldwater Scholarship

Photo of Ethan Kilgore

Combine an insatiable wonder about how things work, a work ethic born of hard work on the family farm, and supportive professors who make learning both fun and meaningful, and what do you get?

At Eastern Kentucky University, you get Ethan Kilgore, one of only 275 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship recipients nationwide.  (Another EKU student, Avery Elizabeth Scherer, a junior aquatic biology major and Honors Program member from Jeffersonville, Ind., earned Honorable Mention recognition.)

The Goldwater Scholarship will pave the way for Kilgore, a junior physics and mathematics major from Paint Lick, to pursue a doctoral degree in theoretical physics and achieve his dream of becoming a college professor of physics.

“I have always been fascinated with understanding how something works,” Kilgore said. “When I was 14, I worked on building a rocket as a school project. I knew the basics of how a rocket could fly, but did not understand the science behind it. When I began to work on the physics and math needed to make the rocket launch, I began to understand how it worked with nature. Physics seemed to be one of the best ways to learn more about how things work. I have learned much, and this has opened the doorway for more areas of study.”

Kilgore, who grew up in a rural farming community, was home schooled through high school. “As a result, I have a unique perspective on how to approach problems,” he said. “Also, it instilled in me a strong desire to succeed by learning at a pace that is independent of those around me, and this has enabled me to push myself in both college classes and research.”

Kilgore, who boasts a 3.86 GPA, and has been involved in several campus organizations, cited four EKU faculty members in particular for their support and encouragement: Dr. Jerry Cook, Dr. Jessica Lair, Dr. Marco Ciocca and Dr. Patrick Costello.

Ciocca, an associate professor of physics, employed Kilgore as a research assistant last fall.

“I measure light curves of variable stars and I have started this program only recently,” Ciocca said. “Ethan, therefore, has found himself in the non-enviable position of helping to establish a full research program. This is not what undergraduate research is usually about, but Ethan took it to heart.

“Quite often the best students in the classroom have difficulty adjusting to the far less structured environment of a research laboratory,” Ciocca added. “Ethan, though, found his footing quickly.”

In addition, Kilgore often goes out of his way to help his fellow students, noted Cook, chair of EKU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “He tutors other students who take introductory physics in our departmental tutoring laboratory, and he is by far the most patient, understanding and requested tutor we have ever had. He is about as well rounded an individual as I have ever met.”

Costello, chair of the University’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, said he was encouraged by Kilgore’s decision to pursue a scientific career. “We need excellent, caring, well-rounded scientists who have a strong background in mathematics finding the newest discoveries in physics.”

Given that his love for the subject matter is matched only by his desire pass along that love to others, it’s no surprise that Kilgore is eager to teach.

“Some fear physics,” Kilgore acknowledged, “and I would like to have the opportunity to show students show interesting it really is.”

Published on April 05, 2011