Senior Wins National Research Award

Henry Mills contributed to research that allowed scientists to photograph a single water molecule.

William “Henry” Mills ’22 was selected as a 2021 Barry Goldwater Scholar. The physics and math major is among 410 scholars selected from more than 1,250 applicants in natural science, engineering, and mathematics. He will receive as much as $7,500 for his senior year. 

The Richmond native has been conducting research with his advisor, Assistant Professor of Physics Varun Makhija, since fall 2019. Chemistry professors Kelli Slunt ’91 and Leanna Giancarlo recommended that Mills apply for the highly regarded, selective scholarship. 

Mills, who plans to pursue a Ph.D., worked with scientists at Stanford University, Stony Brook University, and the National Research Council to take a freeze-frame photograph of a water molecule, Makhija said. 

“The water molecules in your glass of water are in vigorous, random motion. To take a still photograph of this molecule, we need a really short flash of laser light. So short that the molecule’s motion is imperceptible during the flash,” Makhija said. 

“Henry’s contribution was to calculate how quickly the molecules rotate and so figure out how short that flash needs to be. It turns out that the flash can be at most a millionth of a millionth of a hundredth of a second long.” 

The scholarship program named for late Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in STEM areas. It is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

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