University Medal Awarded to Physics and Astronomy Senior Christopher Bambic

Three other graduating seniors from the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences were named finalists for the University Medal

Christopher Bambic, who will graduate this month with bachelor of science degrees in physics and astronomy, will also be awarded the University Medal, which recognizes the most outstanding graduate of the year. The University Medal is awarded to the undergraduate who best personifies academic distinction, extraordinary character, and extracurricular contributions to the university and the larger public. He will be honored for this achievement at the university's Spring Commencement Ceremony on May 20, 2018.

"Those who nominated you conveyed eloquently their admiration for your many accomplishments. They were all deeply impressed by your outstanding academic record and your ability to move seamlessly between academic activities and initiatives that demonstrate your unwavering commitment to serving the needs of others," UMD President Wallace D. Loh wrote in a letter to Bambic. "Your successes on and off campus are testimony to your integrity, thoughtfulness and pursuit of excellence in everything you undertake."

Biological sciences major Yousuf Khan, computer science and mathematics double-degree student Cassidy Laidlaw, and biological sciences and classics double-degree student Elliott Rebello were named finalists for this year's University Medal from the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences.

Christopher Bambic. Credit: Faye Levine. (Click image to download hi-res version.)Bambic, who is also Stamps Banneker/Key Scholar and a member of the University Honors program within the Honors College, was awarded a 2018 Winston Churchill Scholarship and will pursue a one-year Master of Philosophy degree in astronomy at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom after graduation. Bambic also received a 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and will pursue a doctoral degree at Princeton University following his time in Cambridge.

The Churchill Scholarship will allow Bambic, a 2017 Goldwater Scholar, to combine his unique experiences in astrophysics, plasma physics and astronomy to conduct both theoretical and experimental research at the University of Cambridge. There, Bambic will work with Christopher Reynolds, a professor of astronomy at UMD who was recently named Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, and Andrew Fabian, director of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge.

“Chris is an extraordinary young scientist,” Reynolds said. “He has a ‘trap door mind’—you only have to tell him something once and he gets it.”

For two years, Bambic conducted research with Reynolds examining the physics of the plasma that surrounds clusters of galaxies and the role magnetic fields play in active galactic nuclei feedback. Bambic is working to develop a theory of how energy is transferred from supermassive black hole jets to the hot plasma surrounding galaxies.

He spent last summer at the University of Cambridge in Fabian’s lab using X-ray spectral data collected by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s XMM Newton space telescope to research the roles of turbulence and sound waves in heating the plasma in galaxy clusters. He received an Undergraduate Summer Research, Travel and Educational Enrichment Award from the CMNS Alumni Network to pursue this work.

“I am interested in using supercomputer simulations, analytical work, and X-ray and gamma ray observations to elucidate the complex physics of systems such as black holes, astrophysical jets, gamma ray bursts and the hot intracluster medium in clusters of galaxies,” Bambic said.

Bambic has also studied the dissipation of sound waves within plasmas with UMD Physics Professor William Dorland and conducted research on the High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma-Ray Observatory with UMD Distinguished University Professor of Physics Jordan Goodman. 

“Chris is one of the most engaged and ambitious undergraduate students I have seen in my entire career,” Goodman said. “In a day when many of the best students are a mile deep and an inch wide, Chris distinguishes himself with both the depth and breadth of his experience and knowledge.”

A graduate of Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio, Bambic has submitted two first-author journal articles for publication and presented his research at four conferences. He was named a 2017-18 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar and was inducted into the Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society. He serves as president of the AstroTerps student astronomy club, is a member of the Society of Physics Students club, and tutors other students in physics and astronomy. He also volunteers his time in the local community through activities with the Catholic Student Center and the Knights of Columbus.

Media Relations Contact: Abby Robinson, 301-405-5845, abbyr@umd.edu

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About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college’s 10 departments and more than a dozen interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $175 million.

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and six interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $200 million.