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Three from MIT named 2024-25 Goldwater Scholars

Undergraduates Ben Lou, Srinath Mahankali, and Kenta Suzuki, whose research explores math and physics, are honored for their academic excellence.
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Headshots of Ben Lou, Srinath Mahankali, and Kenta Suzuki
MIT students (from left to right) Ben Lou, Srinath Mahankali, and Kenta Suzuki have been selected to receive Barry Goldwater Scholarships for the 2024-25 academic year.
Photos courtesy of the students.

MIT students Ben Lou, Srinath Mahankali, and Kenta Suzuki have been selected to receive Barry Goldwater Scholarships for the 2024-25 academic year. They are among just 438 recipients from across the country selected based on academic merit from an estimated pool of more than 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, approximately 1,350 of whom were nominated by their academic institution to compete for the scholarship.

Since 1989, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has awarded nearly 11,000 Goldwater scholarships to support undergraduates who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering and have the potential to become leaders in their respective fields. Past scholars have gone on to win an impressive array of prestigious postgraduate fellowships. Almost all, including the three MIT recipients, intend to obtain doctorates in their area of research.

Ben Lou

Ben Lou is a third-year student originally from San Diego, California, majoring in physics and math with a minor in philosophy.

“My research interests are scattered across different disciplines,” says Lou. “I want to draw from a wide range of topics in math and physics, finding novel connections between them, to push forward the frontier of knowledge.”

Since January 2022, he has worked with Nergis Mavalvala, dean of the School of Science, and Hudson Loughlin, a graduate student in the LIGO group, which studies the detection of gravitational waves. Lou is working with them to advance the field of quantum measurement and better understand quantum gravity.

“Ben has enormous intellectual horsepower and works with remarkable independence,” writes Mavalvala in her recommendation letter. “I have no doubt he has an outstanding career in physics ahead of him.”

Lou, for his part, is grateful to Mavalvala and Loughlin, as well as all of his scientific mentors that have supported him along his research path. That includes MIT professors Alan Guth and Barton Zwiebach, who introduced him to quantum physics, as well as his first-year advisor, Richard Price; current advisor, Janet Conrad; Elijah Bodish and Roman Bezrukavnikov in the Department of Mathematics; and David W. Brown of the San Diego Math Circle.

In terms of his future career goals, Lou wants to be a professor of theoretical physics and study, as he says, the “fundamental aspects of reality” while also inspiring students to love math and physics.

In addition to his research, Lou is currently the vice president of the Assistive Technology Club at MIT and actively engaged in raising money for Spinal Muscular Atrophy research. In the future, he’d like to continue his philanthropy work and use his personal experience to advise an assistive technology company.

Srinath Mahankali

Srinath Mahankali is a third-year student from New York City majoring in computer science.

Since June 2022, Mahankali has been an undergraduate researcher in the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Working with Pulkit Agrawal, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science and head of the Improbable AI Lab, Mahankali’s research is on training robots. Currently, his focus is on training quadruped robots to move in an energy-efficient manner and training agents to interact in environments with minimal feedback. But in the future, he’d like to develop robots that can complete athletic tasks like gymnastics.

“The experience of discussing research with Srinath is similar to discussions with the best PhD students in my group,” writes Agrawal in his recommendation letter. “He is fearless, willing to take risks, persistent, creative, and gets things done.”

Before coming to MIT, Mahankali was a 2021 Regeneron STS scholar, which is one of the oldest and most prestigious awards for math and science students. In 2020, he was also a participant in the MIT PRIMES program, studying objective functions in optimization problems with Yunan Yang, an assistant professor of math at Cornell University.

“I’m deeply grateful to all my research advisors for their invaluable mentorship and guidance,” says Mahankali, extending his thanks to PhD students Zhang-Wei Hong and Gabe Margolis, as well as assistant professor of math at Brandeis, Promit Ghosal, and all of the organizers of the PRIMES program. “I’m also very grateful to all the members of the Improbable AI Lab for their support, encouragement, and willingness to help and discuss any questions I have,”

In the future, Mahankali wants to obtain a PhD and one day lead his own lab in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Kenta Suzuki

Kenta Suzuki is a third-year student majoring in mathematics from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and Tokyo, Japan.

Currently, Suzuki works with professor of mathematics Roman Bezrukavnikov on research at the intersection of number and representation theory, using geometric methods to represent p-adic groups. Suzuki has also previously worked with math professors Wei Zhang and Zhiwei Yun, crediting the latter with inspiring him to pursue research in representation theory.

In his recommendation letter, Yun writes, “Kenta is the best undergraduate student that I have worked with in terms of the combination of raw talent, mathematical maturity, and research abilities.”

Before coming to MIT, Suzuki was a Yau Science Award USA finalist in 2020, receiving a gold in math, and he received honorable mention from the Davidson Institute Fellows program in 2021. He also participated in the MIT PRIMES program in 2020. Suzuki credits his PRIMES mentor, Michael Zieve at the University of Michigan, with giving him his first taste of mathematical research. In addition, he extended his thanks to all of his math mentors, including the organizers of MIT Summer Program in Undergraduate Research.

After MIT, Suzuki intends to obtain a PhD in pure math, continuing his research in representation theory and number theory and, one day, teaching at a research-oriented institution.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by U.S. Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater, a soldier and national leader who served the country for 56 years. Awardees receive scholarships of up to $7,500 a year to cover costs related to tuition, room and board, fees, and books.

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