Two Haverford Students Awarded Goldwater Scholarships
The winners represent a wide swath of natural science research, from tracing our past to mapping out our future.
Lydia Guertin and Levi Raskin, both from the Class of 2024, have each been awarded a 2023-2024 Barry Goldwater Scholarship. This is the first time since 2007 that two Haverford students have received the award, which is given to exceptional students pursuing careers in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering.
Guertin and Raskin are among 413 college students who have received Goldwater Scholarships, named after the late distinguished Senator from Arizona who served two terms as a United States Senator and unsuccessfully ran for president in 1964 against Lyndon B. Johnson.
Guertin is studying physics and astronomy with a goal to one day teach at the university level. She has been working on Pulsar Timing Arrays under the tutelage of Natalia Lewandowska, an assistant professor in the Physics Department at SUNY Oswego. Lewandowska had been a visiting professor at Haverford during Guertin’s first year here.
Pulsars are highly magnetized and quickly rotating neutron stars, which emit with a precision exceeding that of atomic clocks on Earth. Using data taken with various telescopes which are both ground and space-based, Pulsar Timing Arrays can detect the scale and composure of galaxies by noting correlated deviations in the pulsars’ timing that are caused by low-frequency gravitational waves (GWs) traversing the galaxy.
“We try to create a network of pulsars that are kind of filling the observable sky,” says Guertin. “We do this because the timing residuals that we observe in our models for each of these individual pulsars could be spatially correlated and tell us a few things. It could tell us if there are density boundaries in ionized gas that are creating scattering in a particular direction and not another, which is what I’m interested in.
“But more importantly is to detect a stochastic gravitational wave background that would’ve been formed from primordial black holes at the beginning of the universe effectively, and possibly also from inflationary cosmology, which is when the big bang went from being the size of a pin prick to the size of the observable universe as we know it now.’’
Raskin’s research involves paleoanthropology and more specifically the study of human fossils from the point where mankind split from chimpanzees approximately 7 million years ago. Among the questions the research explores, says Raskin: “How did the evolution of culture and the evolution of technology impact human life history, human development? And, generally, how do we see these cultural impacts on biological evolution?”
Like Guertin, Raskin’s interest was sparked by a mentor, this one in his hometown of Chicago, who just happened to be a world-renowned expert on paleoanthropology. Professor Zeray Alemseged’s discovery of the near-complete skeleton of a three-year-old child born 3.3 million years ago in Ethiopia is the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor discovered to date and represents a major advancement in our understanding of human and pre-human evolution. Through a high school program run by the University of Chicago, Raskin, then in 11th grade, was invited by Professor Alemseged to work in his lab on Wednesdays.
“I had never really thought I would be interested in studying human evolution until I went to his lab,” says Raskin. “He did a great thing for me. He taught me how to read a scientific paper, and I put together a literature review. He and I sat down with all the casts of skulls, and we walked through them together. It helped me learn my anatomy.”
Raskin’s continued research has also been advanced by Maja Šešelj, an associate professor of anthropology at Bryn Mawr, and Jonathan Reeves of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, who led an excavation in Kenya over the summer of 2022 that examined, in Raskin’s words, “to what extent dental development is a predictor of evolutionary relationships, with the idea being that teeth are actually the most common or one of the most common fossils we find.’’
Goldwater scholars receive awards of up to $7,500 per full academic year. Both Raskin and Guertin say the award will enable additional research opportunities, ease the financial burden of graduate school and beyond, and enable additional research opportunities.
Read more about Fords who have won fellowships, scholarships, or grants.