Tech Roomies Win Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Two Georgia Tech roommates are winners of this year's prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. Mathematics major Thomas Callaghan and Materials Science and Engineering student Mark Oliver will both receive up to $7,500 for next year's tuition, fees and room and board at Tech.

The pair, who were born only four days apart, met the summer before their freshman year at a retreat for President's Scholarship winners and lived down the hall from each other that first year. They've been friends ever since. "We joke that we're going to go to Stanford together, although Mark has been getting more interested in Berkeley lately," said Callaghan.

Being so close, it was a bit intimidating applying for the same scholarship, said Callaghan. "I was kind of scared that I had to compete against him," he said. Mark, however, was a bit bolder. "I was confident that we'd both get the Georgia Tech nomination," he replied. They both agreed that Tech's emphasis on undergraduate research has been key to their success.

Oliver has been busy researching composite materials for the next generation of space vehicles in Materials Science and Engineering Professor Steven Johnson's lab. Using plastics reinforced with carbon fibers instead of metal saves a lot of weight, but the trick is that they have to perform well in extreme conditions. "We're studying how the materials perform at cryogenic and elevated temperatures," he said.

Johnson said Oliver has been a vital part of his lab team. "He's very enthusiastic about aerospace materials. He's done very good research as an undergraduate and really wants to understand how things work."

Callaghan has been conducting research with Mathematics Assistant Professor Peter Mucha. The two were puzzled by college football's Bowl Championship Series (BCS) ranking system and wondered if a bunch of simulated monkeys could rank the top teams at least as well as the expert coaches, professional sportswriters and the BCS system. Together with Visiting Assistant Professor Mason Porter, they tested their theory through a mathematical formula and produced results mirroring those of the experts. The project was profiled in media outlets such as Nature, ESPN magazine and CNN Headline News. Mucha credited Callaghan's initiative and hard work for the project's success.

Callaghan said he's drawn to math because it's the foundation for a wide range of disciplines. "I like knowing why things work. Math is the language of problem solving. All of physics, chemistry and engineering are based on math."

Both said they plan to continue pursuing undergraduate research next year. They will be roommates once again.

This year the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation awarded 310 scholarships out of a field of 1,113 applicants from the United States and Puerto Rico. The Scholarship Program, honoring former Arizona Senator Barry M. Goldwater, was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.