Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy

The faculty presents the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy to a deserving undergraduate student. The prize has been endowed by the trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation of Charlottesville, Virginia. The prize recognizes excellence in the sciences and honors the relationship that Mr. Jefferson enjoyed with Professor William Small, his William & Mary tutor in mathematics and natural sciences.

Prize Recipients
Recent recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy
2020 - Grace Solini '20
Award citation

Thomas Jefferson, the most illustrious of William & Mary’s graduates, all his life honored William Small, his professor in natural science, for his inspiring teaching and insightful encouragement of creative questioning.   
 
Grace Solini, Class of 2020, in the spirit of that relationship, it is fitting that two faculty members in different departments have declared you to be one of the most inspiring and creative students whom they have had the honor to teach and mentor. While you were taking her Random Walks in Biology course, Professor Leah Shaw of the Department of Mathematics noted the unusual academic and scientific integrity that you displayed in your work, and your fearlessness in tackling challenging assignments. Your academic performance was one of the highest Shaw’s seen in her seven years of teaching this course, noting that you thoughtfully integrated knowledge from the multiple domains of mathematics, computer science and biology. 
 
Professor Margaret Saha of the Department of Biology observes that you perform research at the level of an advanced graduate student. Under her guidance, your work will have culminated in three first or co-first-authored papers, signifying that you have played the leading role in formulating the hypotheses and deriving results. Besides this clear display of independence, Saha has given many examples of your leadership in her lab and your passion to do everything to ensure that the science can move forward and to help out your fellow students in every way. As a Beckman and Goldwater Scholar, you are poised for an impressive career as a scientist. Unafraid of strong competition, you have applied to three very prestigious Systems Biology doctoral programs at Harvard, MIT and CalTech.   
 
Grace Solini, your professors continue to be inspired by you as they know that, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and William Small, you embody the excellence captured by the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy. We are proud to present you with the 2020 Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.

2019 - Jacopo Gliozzi '19
Award citation

Thomas Jefferson, the most illustrious of William & Mary’s graduates, all his life honored William Small, his professor in natural science, for his inspiring teaching and insightful encouragement of creative questioning.

Jacopo Gliozzi, Class of 2019, in the spirit of that relationship, it is fitting that faculty members in two different departments have declared you to be one of the most inspiring and creative students whom they have had the honor to teach. Professor Enrico Rossi, your research supervisor in the physics department, praises your undergraduate research accomplishments, which will lead to three research publications in theoretical condensed matter physics by the time you graduate. He attributes this remarkable level of productivity to your “ability to make connections between very advanced mathematical and physics concepts,” your “exceptional powers of abstraction and analytical skills” and your natural creativity. Professor Jozef Dudek praises your superior performance in his Quantum Field Theory course, a course intended for Ph.D. students in their second year of graduate school. Professor Christopher Carone, the chair of the physics department, describes your outstanding performance in Professor Dudek’s advanced course as “amazing” and attests that he knows of no other undergraduate who accomplished the same in his two decades at the university.

In addition to your physics professors, your mathematics professors are equally impressed by your achievements and potential. Your mathematics research advisor, Professor Pierre Clare, observes that you can always identify core mathematical ideas within the technical apparatus of a theory, a skill that usually comes only after years of practice and reflection on the material, not within days of seeing it for the first time. Professor Nahum Zobin praises your ability to quickly comprehend difficult new ideas and to start working with them in some of the toughest mathematics courses. Junping Shi, chair of the mathematics department, believes that your excellence is no less than that of the very few previous awardees of the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy who have successfully completed their doctoral degrees in science or mathematics at the nation’s top graduate programs.

Jacopo Gliozzi, your professors continue to be inspired by you as they know that, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and William Small, you embody the excellence captured by this award. We are proud to present you with the 2019 Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.

2018 - Likhitha Kolla '18
Award citation

Thomas Jefferson, the most illustrious of William & Mary’s graduates, all his life honored William Small, his professor in natural science, for his inspiring teaching and insightful encouragement of creative questioning.

Likhitha Kolla, Class of 2018, in the spirit of that relationship, it is fitting that four faculty members in William & Mary's Department of Biology have declared you to be one of the most creative and independent students whom they have had the honor to teach. Full of boundless energy, you have taken on a demanding workload every semester in order to complete a challenging double major in biology and computational and applied mathematics and statistics. You have been an outstanding member of the William & Mary iGEM team and leader of the Biology Club for three years. Former Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology William Buchser found that while you were in his lab you easily ascended to leader of his research team and made decisions that have influenced the direction of his lab. With your exceptional skills in molecular, cellular and computational biology, you have forged a new approach to cancer research using novel tools that you helped discover that inhibit key processes in cancer cells. You are first author on one paper and have co-authored another submitted for publication, attesting to the importance of your research.

Your on-campus supervisor for your honors thesis, Professor Lizabeth Allison, observes that you are truly the driving force behind your project, and says that every time she has a conversation with you her admiration for your intellect and research prowess increases exponentially. Highlighting your versatility as a researcher, you have also collaborated with Professor Oliver Kerscher and will be a co-author on a forthcoming publication from his lab. Professor Mark Forsyth notes that you do all things with ease and grace and are “simply brilliant.” Professor Margaret Saha observes that you have embraced with enthusiasm every cutting-edge approach, no matter how multidisciplinary or challenging, to answer the questions your research poses. You have fearlessly taken on the field of quantitative and computational biology and are determined to obtain an M.D./Ph.D. and develop quantitative predictive models for disease prognosis.

Likhitha Kolla, your professors continue to be inspired by you as they know that, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and William Small, you embody the excellence captured by the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy. We are proud to present you with the 2018 Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.

2017 - Ben Zhang '17
Award citation

Thomas Jefferson, the most illustrious of William & Mary’s graduates, all his life honored William Small, his professor in natural science, for his inspiring teaching and insightful encouragement of creative questioning.

Xinzi Zhang, Class of 2017, in the spirit of that relationship, it is fitting that two of your Chemistry professors have declared you to be truly exceptional. Professor Carey Bagdassarian notes that he has never encountered your “intensity of engagement and comprehension” in his near 20 years of teaching. You are known among your professors for your extraordinary intellect and deep commitment to studying course material at a depth far beyond what is required. After seeing you derive equations on a hallway white board one day, Professor Bagdassarian realized you understood physical chemistry at the level of a doctoral student. Professor Elizabeth Harbron, with whom you have worked for the last two-and-a-half years, says that you are the best research student she has had in her 15-year career at the university. You took a nascent project and brought it rapidly to fruition. Professor Harbron attributes your success to your “unprecedented combination of outstanding technical skills, unparalleled powers of observation, deep fluency with mathematics and ability to self-teach.” Your efforts have already resulted in a first-author publication in the prestigious journal, Chemical Communications. Another first-author manuscript is currently being written, and a third is planned as part of your Honors research. Your level of understanding, research ability, and productivity are that of a near-to-graduation Ph.D. student.

Your talents are not limited to chemistry. Professor Bagdassarian describes you as a “polymath,” and your professors note your accomplishments in geology, Latin, photography and other disciplines. You are also known for your leadership, be it in Humans of William & Mary or in the lab.

Your accomplishments have already drawn notice. You were selected for the Blanton Mercer Bruner award of the Virginia Academy of Science as the most outstanding rising junior in chemistry at William & Mary last spring. In 2015 you were awarded an International Student Achievement Award by the Reves Center. Most recently, you were inducted into the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

Ben Zhang, your professors continue to be inspired by you as they know that, in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson and William Small, you embody the excellence captured by the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy. We are proud to present you with this honor.

View more recipients of the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.