Vincent Kim of Grand Blanc, Mich., a senior at Washington and Lee University, has been awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship for a Ph.D. program in physics at Cambridge University in England. The three-year scholarship provides tuition and a stipend.
Kim is a physics and global politics major and a poverty and human capability studies minor. He is captain of the W&L tennis team.
"I was attracted to Cambridge by its program in optoelectronics, where they are studying solar cells and alternative energy. I really liked that it is focused on developing more efficient solar cells that could be used globally in communities that are off the grid and don't have access to electricity," said Kim. "If we work on alternative forms of energy, we can really alleviate poverty. I think it's one of the aspects of physics that's very pressing and can affect a lot of people."
Kim said that the Shepherd Poverty Program convinced him to attend W&L, where learned about different aspects of poverty, some of the causes and how technology can help alleviate poverty.
"The Shepherd Program gives me a great perspective on why we're studying science and how we can follow our passions for different academic subjects — for me it's physics — and how we can use that to make the world a better place," he said.
Irina Mazilu is Kim's faculty advisor and associate professor of physics at W&L. She and her husband, Dan Mazilu, assistant professor of physics, work together on projects with Irina focusing on the theory and Dan focusing on the experimental side.
"At the core of Vincent's beliefs is the idea of giving back to the community and making a difference," said Mazilu. "He lives his life with purpose and urgency and he doesn't waste time."
According to Mazilu, Kim's resume is already that of a seasoned physicist. He has published a paper in a leading peer-reviewed statistical physics journals, "Journal of Statistical Mechanics: Theory and Experiment," with a further two manuscripts submitted and under review.
"Vincent's involvement in research goes beyond completing the tasks assigned by his research advisor. He is my research collaborator in the true sense of the word, and co-author on physics articles. He is a gifted physicist. Many times during our research meetings, Vincent would present an out-of-the-box solution to experimental or theoretical problems that would move the project further, sometimes in unexpected directions," said Mazilu.
Kim also had the opportunity to attend two international conferences, the American Physics Society National Conference in Baltimore in 2012 and the 25thInternational Conference of Statistical Physics in Seoul, South Korea, in 2013. At the latter, Kim presented the W&L research and networked with experts in the field.
"The physicists who attended the presentations had a hard time believing that Vincent is 'just an undergraduate' because his professionalism and expertise in the field are at the level of an advanced graduate student," said Mazilu.
During his time at W&L, Kim also has been able to study abroad in Spain, Costa Rica and Japan and has taught English in the Dominican Republic.
"Vincent came back from his travels with a renewed sense of gratitude and responsibility to share with his peers what he learned," said Mazilu.
Kim received a Johnson Scholarship to attend W&L, which provides full-tuition, room-and-board merit scholarships for up to 44 exceptionally qualified students. The program has recently been expanded to give each Johnson Scholar the opportunity to receive financial support for summer internships, research or independent projects.
"I wouldn't have been able to attend Washington and Lee without receiving a Johnson Scholarship," said Kim. "It's phenomenal. It gave me all the opportunities that have enabled me to get into graduate school at Cambridge."