Hollis Akins and David Jin Receive Goldwater Scholarships

May 28, 2021

Grinnell College students Hollis Akins ’22, and David Jin ’21, were awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarships. The Goldwater scholarship program, one of the oldest and most prominent national scholarships in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics in the United States, seeks to identify and support college sophomores and juniors who show exceptional promise of becoming this nation’s next generation of research leaders in their fields. This year, 410 scholars were selected from a total of 1,256 nominees from colleges and universities around the country. 

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation was established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to honor the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and statesman, including 30 years in the U.S. Senate. The foundation has been able to support a larger number of scholarships in the past few years due to a collaboration with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Program and additional support from Congress. Since the inception of the program, nearly 9,500 undergraduates have now been named Goldwater Scholars. 

Hollis Akins

Hollis Akins, a physics major from Greensboro, North Carolina, aims to be an astrophysics professor and researcher. This summer, Akins will be working as a summer scholar at the Cosmic DAWN Center, a research institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. His project will use data from some of the leading telescopes in the world to map the distribution of enriched gas around an incredibly distant galaxy. Following graduation from Grinnell in May 2022, he will pursue a PhD in galactic astrophysics, with a particular focus on the conditions of the early universe and the evolution of galaxies at these early epochs.  

David Jin, a physics major with origins in Korea, China, New Jersey, California, and Iowa, is currently studying information and data science through the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) as part of his 3-2 program in engineering. The program connects an established engineer curriculum with natural sciences and liberal arts studies, which leads to a B.A. degree from Grinnell at the end of the fourth year and a B.S. degree from Caltech at the end of the fifth year. This fits Jin’s goal to pursue a PhD in optics to conduct research in computational imaging and teach at the university level. 

“Hollis and David represent the strength of our natural sciences division at Grinnell College,” said Ann Landstrom, assistant dean and director of global fellowships and awards at Grinnell. “They both demonstrate a strong commitment to research, intellectual achievement, and great potential for future contribution in their fields.”  

Akins worked with Professor Desika Narayanan at the University of Florida as part of the REU program in computational and data intensive astrophysics in the summer of 2020. His project involved using cosmological simulations to study observational techniques for classifying massive galaxies in the early universe. He presented this research at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2021.  In the summer of 2019, he conducted a summer Mentored Advanced Project with Professor Charlotte Christensen, studying the formation and evolution of dwarf galaxies using cosmological simulations. This work continued into the academic year and in March 2021 he published a paper in the Astrophysical Journal. Prior to these experiences he worked as a research assistant at the Cline Observatory at Guilford College, developing software for automated astronomical imaging and data processing. It was there that he co-authored a published paper with Guilford College Professor Don Smith describing the telescope system and the data analysis software. Akins’ other academic mentor is Assistant Professor of Physics Shanshan Rodriguez

Akins currently works as a student mentor at the Data Analysis and Social Inquiry Lab, served as course mentor and lab assistant for several classes, and has co-taught an observational astronomy course through the Grinnell Experiential College program. 

“I’m honored to be selected as a 2021 Goldwater Scholar, and I look forward to the opportunities this award presents. I’m excited by the prospect of continuing to work towards a career in astrophysics research,” said Akins. “Astronomy is like a puzzle: we’ve learned as much as we have only by piecing together many independent, limited observations and theories, and every one of these pieces is valuable. I hope to continue contributing new pieces to this puzzle.”  

Jin, a recipient of the award through his nomination by Caltech, contributed to the Grinnell science community as a teaching assistant, tutor, and mentor. As a first-generation student, he has a strong commitment in helping others pursue their passion and a college education. Jin also performed with the orchestra and the percussion ensemble at Grinnell.  

David Jin
David Jin

Jin’s summers were enriched with research experience. In the summer of 2018, he conducted research with Assistant Professor Barbara Breen at Grinnell performing computational simulations of nonlinear dynamical systems. He held an REU with Professor Rajarshi Roy at the University of Maryland, College Park studying the laminar chaos in arduino-based mackey-glass circuit with variable delay in the summer of 2019. Then in the summer of 2020, Jin researched emulating ray tracing with machine learning at the University of California, Los Angeles with the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics. Jin’s other academic mentors are Professor Charles Cunningham and Assistant Professor Keisuke Hasegawa

Goldwater scholarships provides financial assistance with undergraduate tuition and connects students with a network of fellow students, early career scientists, and experienced scholars. The Goldwater Foundation maintains an active community forum for discussions about STEM careers and graduate school opportunities. 

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