Small physics program leads to big awards for Kamenetzky

After winning two of the nation’s most prestigious undergraduate science awards, Julia Kamentzky says Cornell’s small size was actually a big plus.

“Because we are a smaller department, it’s easy to get to know all the other physics majors and professors, so you can get individual help to understand the material,” she says.

Julia Kamenetzky
Julia Kamenetzky: "I'm glad that I spent my undergraduate career doing things I love, gaining a strong background in physics, and getting some good research experience. I would definitely recommend that students take advantage of all the things Cornell has to offer."

Kamenetzky also found ways to build upon research activities in a stepping-stone fashion. Summer research at Cornell on organic solar cells gave her valuable lab skills, and a class paper on massive star formation fueled her passion for astrophysics while giving her insights into primary research on the topic.

She then developed a research proposal based on these experiences that earned a 2007 Goldwater Scholarship, the premiere undergraduate award in science, mathematics, and engineering.  She also landed a summer research (REU) position at Cornell University where she worked in a large research setting with students from around the country.

“The other students found it pretty weird that I attend a school with only three physics professors in a town with one stoplight, but I think that throughout the summer I definitely proved that it made no difference,” she says.

“I didn’t realize until the REU just how much the block plan has improved my time management skills.  I kept getting projects done faster than my team leader could find them for me!  It also helped that I had experience in LabView from my summer research at Cornell College, because they were operating their instruments with LabView, but none of the current members of the group actually knew how to use it.”

Her REU research on the Carine Nebula led her to write a proposal to study the massive star Eta Carine — a proposal that helped her net a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. The 2008 award was one of only 17 given in the area of astronomy and astrophysics and provides three years of funding up to $121,500.

“This award gives me a lot of freedom in my research and my studies, and allows me to pursue almost any path I choose,” she says. “I’m very excited — it’s a big honor.”

Kamentzky says Cornell College also gave her many opportunities to pursue her passions beyond the classroom and the lab. Her campus activities include New Student Orientation, as a peer advocate and orientation leader; Cornell Orchestra and the student-faculty chamber ensemble Collegium Musicum, as a violinist; and Dark Purple, a student organization that coordinates late-night programming on campus, as chair. She is also a tutor, a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Cornell’s Judicial Board, and plays in Pandemonium, the Cornell steel drum band.

“I’ve had a great time at Cornell, in every aspect of my life, not just physics.  I would definitely recommend that students take advantage of all the things Cornell has to offer,” she says.