Assistant Professor of Physics Madeline Wade endeavors to explore some of the universe’s most cataclysmic occurrences through her work with a system called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO. This year, she’s been rewarded for her scholarly work and for helping to bring others into her universe of research with a prestigious award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Wade is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a global group of over 1,000 scientists who contributed to the project that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. In 2016, the group announced a historic detection of gravitational waves caused by two colliding black holes; the detection confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, which had previously only been predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
The Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award Wade won is one of the NSF’s top awards in support of early-career faculty. It is given to professors who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. The award comes with a $400,000 grant given over the course of five years in order to help recipients fund their research and build academic programs.
In addition to advancing her research, Wade will also use part of the grant to fund Radio and Optical Astronomical Research (ROAR), a group at Kenyon she helps run that serves as an entry-level research opportunity for students who want to learn about astronomy. Students in the group learn how to analyze radio telescope data, operate Kenyon’s optical telescopes and explore astronomical topics in creative ways, and they even serve as remote operators for the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia. With the grant, ROAR plans to construct a small radio telescope at Kenyon to give students more hands-on experience with radio telescopes. The group also plans on teaching Mount Vernon High School astronomy club students how to analyze radio telescope data.
Professor of Physics Paula Turner, who helps run ROAR with Wade and Assistant Professor of Physics Les Wade, noted that this award highlights the exceptional work Wade has completed.
“Winning a CAREER grant is a signal achievement for a physicist at the start of their career. It indicates the high quality and high profile of her research achievements thus far and the confidence the reviewers have in her future productivity, creativity and impact,” Turner said. “Maddie deserves this recognition for the excellent work she and her research group members have been doing.”
Maddie Stover ’20, a physics major from Okemos, Michigan, who is involved in ROAR, praised Wade for her mentorship of young researchers.
“Professor Wade prioritizes students while doing research at a high level,” said Stover, a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration who has worked in Wade’s research group for several years. “As a young woman starting out in the field of physics, it’s really empowering to have such a strong role model. I’m excited to see what Professor Wade will accomplish with the support of the CAREER award.”
With her NSF grant, Wade looks forward to further enriching opportunities for research collaboration among Kenyon faculty and students.
“Studies have shown that involving students in research early helps with retention, especially for underrepresented groups in our field. Our goal is to have an opportunity for students to dive into research immediately in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating,” she said. “There’s a huge number of science scholars on campus every summer actively engaged in their faculty’s research labs. I think the sciences are so strong because those research opportunities really provide access to what it’s like to be a scientist and adds to the rich curriculum that we already have in the sciences.”
In addition to ROAR, several other programs at Kenyon support and facilitate these intensive research experiences: the Summer Science Scholars, the Clare Booth Luce Undergraduate Research Scholars program, the Rise Science Fellowship and the Cascade Scholars program.