Rastogi receives Jefferson Prize

Rastogi looks over the score on his GRE as Carone applauds. By Joe McClain.

Ashwin Rastogi, a math/physics major from Fairfax, Va., has been named the recipient of the College of William and Mary's 2008 Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.

The prize honors a senior William and Mary student for academic achievement in the sciences. Endowed by the trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, the prize is presented each year as part of the College's Charter Day ceremonies.

Charter Day celebrates the day on which the College received its royal charter from the British monarchy in 1693. This year's ceremony, held Feb.9, marks the 315th anniversary of the awarding of the Royal Charter from King William III and Queen Mary II of Great Britain establishing the College.

"I'm honored to receive the Jefferson Prize," Rastogi said. "It's an extremely prestigious and competitive award. I'm both excited and humbled to be included among students who have been awarded it in the past. It's been an immensely rewarding experience to study with the professors and students here, and I'm grateful that the College makes an effort to recognize its students in the sciences."

The Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy is just the most recent achievement on Rastogi's slate. As a junior, he was named one of the nation's 317 Goldwater Scholars by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. He also received the E.G. Clark Memorial Scholarship, given to a rising senior who is a physics major at William and Mary.

In late 2007, Rastogi received notification that he had scored a 990, the highest score possible, on the physics Graduate Record Exam. He also has done research work in three departments—chemistry, mathematics and physics—and maintained a 4.0 grade average in a challenging math-physics double major.

"If you look at Ashwin's transcripts, the sheer number of technical courses that he's taken shows that he's not minimally satisfying the math and physics degree requirements. He's taking everything that both departments offer," said Rastogi's advisor, Christopher Carone, associate professor of physics. "That's probably a slight exaggeration, but his transcript seems heavier in math and physics courses than any I've ever seen in an undergraduate student."

He began his research work freshman year, working on a project involving semiclassical analysis of chemical bonding with Stephen Knudson of William and Mary's Department of Chemistry. After his sophomore year, Rastogi was selected for a summer internship spot at the National Institute of Science and Technology, funded by the National Science Foundation. Last year he did a project in the math department with Ferguson Professor of Mathematics Chi-Kwong Li, which led to two papers submitted to peer-reviewed journals, with Rastogi as co-author. He is working on a separate functional analysis project with professors Ilya Spitkovsky and Leiba Rodman, also of the math department.

Rastogi also has been working with Carone on a project involving particle physics. The work is aimed at constructing a mathematical model for electroweak unification—an explanation of how two of the fundamental forces of nature, electromagnetism and the weak force, might be theoretically linked. The project was the basis for Rastogi's senior honor thesis, and he and Carone wrote it up for a physics journal, with Rastogi doing his share of the work. The paper, "An exceptional electroweak model," has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review D.

"His contribution is comparable to what I would expect from a second-year Ph.D. student," Carone said. "There are parts of the particle physics that I did exclusively because Ashwin hasn't had that background yet—it's a graduate course. Basically all the rest of the analysis Ashwin and I did separately and we cross-checked each other. It was exactly the same kind of collaboration you would expect between a professor and a graduate student."

Rastogi's career goal is to get a Ph.D. in theoretical or mathematical physics and to "conduct research that will make a meaningful contribution to the modern theories and understanding of physics at an academic institution." He is waiting to hear from graduate schools.