MIT senior Nathaniel Thomas has won a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, and will head to the University of Cambridge next year to pursue a master’s degree in mathematics. Thomas, who is currently pursuing majors in physics and in mathematics and minors in economics and in music, describes studying at Cambridge as a dream he has held since high school.
Linn Hobbs, chair of MIT’s Presidential Committee on Distinguished Scholarships, describes Thomas as a “high-energy particle physicist” who, despite his “bulging curriculum,” would gladly have added computer science as a third major if it weren’t against MIT policy.
“Nate has many strong interests,” says Hobbs, professor of materials science and engineering and of nuclear science and engineering, learning “as much as possible about as many of them as he can possibly fit into his curriculum and his day.”
Thomas is the 63rd MIT student to receive a Marshall Scholarship since the program began. In 1953, the British Parliament established the scholarship program as a continuing gesture of gratitude to the United States in commemoration of the Marshall Plan — the American aid program that helped rebuild Europe after World War II. Scholarships are awarded each year to finance the education of future leaders in a wide range of fields. This year, Thomas is one of 33 scholarship recipients.
A full plate
Thomas says his “voracious appetite for learning” has helped him tackle his challenging double-major curriculum while also exploring other interests, including music performance and composition. He has been a pianist and organist for many years, as well as a composer; a composition he penned has been choreographed and performed by the MIT Dance Troupe. Thomas is also president of the MIT Society of Physics Students.
Internships throughout his undergraduate years have enabled Thomas to explore the cosmos, and the very origins of the universe. During the summer after his freshman year, Thomas interned at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where he conducted experiments to study the effects of charged particle beams in particle accelerators. Thomas spent the following summer at CERN, the European nuclear physics research center in Geneva, where he employed his mathematical training to examine the Higgs boson, a hypothetical massive particle often referred to as the “God particle.”
Since his junior year, Thomas has worked in MIT’s Center for Theoretical Physics, taking on a number of problems he says are “far out on the spectrum of cosmology.” Working with Alan Guth, Victor F. Weisskopf Professor of Physics, Thomas applied mathematical equations to theories of parallel universes that may have sprung up during the Big Bang, looking for evidence of collisions between them.
Thomas will head to Cambridge in the fall to pursue a master’s in mathematics. He also hopes to explore classes in theoretical physics, as well as sing in a university choir. He says the support he received at MIT was instrumental in his application for the coveted scholarship.
“The people in the MIT scholarship program were fantastic to work with,” Thomas says. “They are a big part of why MIT is able to … win these awards.”