Friday, April 3, 2015

USNA Assistant Professor Named KITP Scholar

USNA Assistant Professor Ryan Wilson was recently named a Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics (KITP) Scholar.

Dr. Wilson is the first service academy professor selected for this prestigious award and one of only six awardees for 2015-2017.


“I feel honored to have received the KITP,” said Wilson “I put a lot of work into the application because it was important to me. There’s some nice recognition to the award and I feel fortunate to be able to accept it.”

Wilson is a native of Kirkwood, Mo. and began teaching physics at the Naval Academy in August 2014. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2011 and spent the intervening years performing research at the National Institute for Standards and Technology and JILA at the University of Colorado Boulder. As a KITP Scholar, Wilson will be performing theoretical/computational research on ultra-cold matter, as well as, collaborating with colleges in this field of study.

“I'm interested in exploring the exotic states of matter that emerge in gases of atoms and photons,” said Wilson “This is a place designed to foster collaborative research among scientists of all kinds of disciplines. Part of the idea is that sometimes the best ideas and the greatest progress come from unexpected places. If you start to learn about someone else’s research, you might get some ideas to help your own research. This will expose me to a larger community of people to discuss my research with.”

KITP Scholars are visiting researchers in theoretical physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of California at Santa Barbara. The award funds a total of three round trips and up to six weeks of local expenses. KITP established the KITP Scholar program to support the research efforts of faculty at U.S. colleges and universities that are not major research institutions.


Wilson hopes his experience will enable him to become a better teacher.

“I hope to be a more effective faculty member here at USNA,” said Wilson. “There’s a part of the program that will help my research, that’s true, but the other part of the program is the educational component. It brings together educators to discuss common issues we face. How do we become more efficient teachers? How can we better include our students in research? We come together to try to come up with solutions.”

Wilson’s decision to apply for a position at USNA was motivated by an opportunity to teach and conduct research.

“I think one thing that distinguishes USNA from other institutions, is there are many teachers that instruct while performing research, and are encouraged to do so,” said Wilson. “They want effective teachers, and they do a great job of bringing them here. They also want civilian faculty that will involve Midshipmen in their research and make meaningful contributions to their field.”

“As a teacher of physics, he explains why theoretical underpinnings are important and how theory makes problems easier to solve,” said Assistant Professor Daniel Finkenstadt. “Wilson's research students respect his background in atomic physics, and the Kavli Scholarship is certainly an important acknowledgement and confirmation of Ryan's academic excellence and achievement.”

The KITP Scholar Award is helping to create opportunities for teachers whom are excelling in their respective fields, and allowing those teachers to have a meaningful impact on the students they are educating and conducting research with.

“Having professors that both teach and conduct research is crucial to our academic development,” said Midshipman Second Class Michael Woulfe, one of Wilson’s research students. “Because Professor Wilson's dual role, I was able to learn all about his expertise beyond a conventional class and since I'm his research student, we will be able to explore further into his subject expertise.  Not only will this research benefit my knowledge and learning, but it will also be a new, and hopefully original, discovery.


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