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Rebecca LaVerne Winzer, Goldwater Scholar recipient 2013

Turning Opportunity into Gold(water)

by Amanda Cairo

It’s the unknown, the intangible and the theory that drew Rebecca LaVerne Winzer to physics. The sophomore from Coeur d’Alene has delved head first into research at the University of Idaho and will be able to use her recently awarded Goldwater Scholarship to help further academic studies and propel her into graduate school.

“The Goldwater Scholarship will definitely open doors to other scholarships and programs as well as make it more possible to get into top graduate schools,” said LaVerne Winzer.

LaVerne Winzer is taking advantage of her opportunities at the University of Idaho. She is working on undergraduate research in nuclear physics with physics professor Ruprecht Machleidt. She is using a method called renormalization to remove the low-energy dependence of chiral effective field theory in order to derive a more fundamental theory of nuclear forces.

“I like the computational work, the fundamental theory,” says LaVerne Winzer. “I look at what’s out there, and I want to simplify the problem.”

To help her gain more research experience and opportunties, LaVerne Winzer is taking advantage of the Research Experience Undergraduate program. She will be spending her summer vacation at Brigham Young University to study nanoparticles and conduct research involving material structures.

Research has become second nature to LaVerne Winzer. She plans to earn a doctorate in physics, then teach and conduct research at the university level, specializing in nuclear, medical or biophysics. While her career path is still being formed, LaVerne Winzer says at U-Idaho she is able to work with different professors on their research and gain great experience in several fields.

“I’m not sure which area of physics I want to go into yet, but I’m gaining valuable experience in some major areas,” she says. “It’s easy to get involved in research as an undergraduate here because the professors are very open to giving inexperienced students opportunities.”

While she will continue with Machleidt’s research next academic year, she has signed on to do research with another professor in the department as well.

“A lot of students don’t take advantage of the opportunities and the professors,” says LaVerne Winzer, who started her research as a freshman by simply asking a professor if she could. “I feel like I’m set up really well for where I want to go.”

In addition to her studies, LaVerne Winzer is an active student on campus assisting the Circle K club’s volunteer efforts, participating in the Alternative Service Break program with a trip to Boise, tutoring student-athletes and competing on the Master’s Swim Team. She also travels to national physics conferences.

LaVerne Winzer was one of 271 scholars to receive 2013 Goldwater Scholarships. She’s joined this year by U-Idaho mechanical engineering junior Kevin Witkoe.

 They were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,107 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. LaVerne Winzer’s two-year scholarship will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.