Francesca Fornasini

Francesca at Hanauma Bay, Oahu

Murray 1693 Scholar


Rockville, MD (Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School) but I was born in Milan, Italy

Why W&M?

I remember my college decision process as a grueling one. I was deciding between W&M, Notre Dame, Georgetown, and four Ivy leagues. I finally chose to attend W&M because of the benefits of the Murray Scholars program and an academic and social environment I had found nowhere else. Especially considering that the other colleges I was looking at cost a minimum of $45,000 a year, the financial scholarship was a big factor in my decision. However, even more important was the fact that W&M not only provided an affordable education but an excellent one. Nowhere else had I found such close interaction between students and faculty, full-time professors who were happy to teach freshman introductory classes and to involve undergraduates in their research. All of my professors have been more than willing to offer help outside of class, and I was involved in academic research by the second semester of my freshman year.  As a Murray Scholar, there are the additional amazing benefits of 1) being able to register for classes before anyone else and therefore being completely free in choosing my academic path, and 2) having invitations to local academic conferences and private receptions with such prominent figures as Sandra Day O'Connor.

Francesca at the top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. She is standing beside a traditional Hawaiian altar and behind her are some of the best telescopes in the world

Physics and English

Extracurriculars at W&M

During my four years, I was involved in a variety of activities such as Swing Dance Club, tutoring elementary school students at Matthew Whaley, going on hiking trips with the Outdoor Club, the Society of Physics Students, learning to play guitar from friends who are already excellent guitar players, and Catholic Campus Ministry, through which I have been involved in different types of community service and in organizing educational forums about social justice issues.

Francesca with her grandmother, Ninetta at a cloister in her hometown of Veneto, Italy.
Research at W&M
  • Freshman and sophomore year - Prof. Cooke's optics lab, studying the properties of a room temperature ionic liquid under vacuum
  • Summer 2007 - internship at the National Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, one of the astrophysics research institutes that works with the Hubble Telescope; the project I was working on dealt with star formation in the Orion Nebula
  • Junior year - Prof. Aubin's atomic physics lab, designing and building a laser intensity stabilizer
  • Summer 2009 - astrophysics REU program at the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii; my project involved classifying luminous infrared galaxies (LIRGs) by their optical properties into starburst, composite, and AGN classes, and then studying the various radio properties of these different types of LIRGs
  • Senior year - honors senior thesis research with Prof. Aubin and Prof. Novikova; studying the two-photon four-wave mixing process and trying to use it as the basis for an imaging system for ultra-cold atoms
  • Received the Don Harrison, Jr. Award in Physics (2010)
Francesca with her aunt and second cousin in Veneto. They both speak the local dialect and were involved in Francesca's Murray Project
Murray Project

During the summer of 2008, I began working on a comparative syntactic study of the two Northern Italian dialects my grandmothers speak.  I went to Italy for a month, staying with my grandmothers and interviewing them, other relatives, and some of their friends who still speak these local dialects. The questionnaires I used were given to me by two linguistic professors at the University of Padova, who were conducting a huge syntactic study of all Italian dialects. In spring 2009, I undertook an independent study with Professor Ann Reed; we found that one of the primary syntactic contrasts between the dialects was the way in which they achieve negation.  Read more about my project.

Where am I now?

I am working on my Ph.D. in Astronomy at UC-Berkeley and enjoying the Bay area a lot. My research involves searching one arm of the Milky Way for clues about the nature of the universe. I am trying to identify new high-mass X-ray binaedies, binary stellar systems composed of a massive star and a neutron star or black hole companion. My work took me to Chile for observations at a different wavelength of energy. I was honorded to be awarded a departmental Graduate Student Instructor award, and then a university-wide Teaching Effectiveness Award of which only a few are given. See the lesson plan that won her that award.