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Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
September 7, 2006
DeKalb, Ill. — It’s safe to call NIU graduate student Edward Nissen a physics whiz.
The 23-year-old from north-suburban Lake Bluff recently won a $10,000 scholarship from the Directed Energy Professional Society.
Nissen earned his bachelor’s degree in physics at Johns Hopkins University and enrolled last fall in the NIU Graduate School. Within six months, he had passed both the master’s-level and Ph.D.-qualifying exams in physics, a feat that astounded NIU faculty.
“That’s a rare accomplishment,” NIU Presidential Research Professor Court Bohn says. “In this department, he’s the only one I know of who has done that. Usually students need extensive graduate-level instruction in order to even have a chance of passing the Ph.D.-qualifying exam. And normally it takes several tries to pass all four sections of the test.”
Nissen is working with Bohn’s research group on ways to improve the integrity of particle beams used in accelerators and for lasers. He also is a research assistant for the Northern Illinois Center for Accelerator and Detector Development.
“Ed is clearly an outstanding student,” Bohn says, adding that Nissen is already making a contribution to the Beam Physics and Astrophysics Group. The student now is being trained in complex nonlinear dynamics by NIU research associate Ioannis Sideris, who will be leaving NIU later this semester after winning a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship to the internationally renowned Computational Astrophysics Group at the University of Zurich.
“As late as December of last year, Ed hadn’t even used computers for science,” Bohn says. “Now he has mastered software programs, has written his own computer codes and is doing sophisticated simulations related to an accelerator project envisioned for construction at a national laboratory in Darmstadt, Germany.”
Nissen won the Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS) scholarship based on the strength of his application and research proposal.
DEPS is the premier organization for the exchange of information on the development and application of directed energy, which includes both high-energy lasers and high-power microwaves. DEPS fosters research and development of directed-energy technology for national defense and civil applications through professional communication and education.
Nissen will have the opportunity to reapply for the competitive scholarship next year as well.
“I started getting interested in physics during my sophomore year of high school when we learned about special relativity,” Nissen says. “I realized I was good at it.”
He hasn’t yet decided on a specific career within the field. “I’m just trying to keep it open and see where things take me,” he says.