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TCNJ physics major named 2024 Goldwater Scholar

michael polania
Junior physics major Michael Polania wins 2024–25 Goldwater scholarship.

Physics major Michael Polania ’25 was named a 2024–2025 Goldwater Scholar, the most prestigious national designation for undergraduate mathematics, science, and engineering students.

Out of 1,353 faculty-nominated sophomores and juniors from 446 academic institutions nationwide, only 438 students received the Goldwater Scholarship for the 2024–2025 academic year. The award offers up to $7,500 per year to cover tuition, books, and room and board costs.

Polania has been interested in space from a young age and has been involved in student-faculty research collaborations from the outset of his college career at TCNJ.

“Starting the second week of my freshman year, I reached out to professors in the physics department and asked them if they had any research opportunities available,” Polania said.

He quickly got to work with his faculty advisor, physics professor Mariah MacDonald, and their resulting research on exoplanet dynamics was published in The Astronomical Journal. They also presented at the American Astronomical Society conference in Seattle in January 2023.

Polania has since worked with several professors on projects ranging from dark matter and the emission of electromagnetic radiation from rotating black holes to slow slip events along the Mexican megathrust.

“I wanted to try a lot of things to see what I’d be interested in,” he said. “I’ve learned that I’m really interested in dark matter.”

After graduating from TCNJ, Polania’s goal is to head to graduate school to obtain a PhD in theoretical astrophysics and become a research scientist at a private institution or government laboratory specializing in cosmology and particle physics.

Polania was recently invited to join TCNJ’s Phi Beta Kappa national honor society chapter, as well as Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honor Society. He is a Bonner Scholar, an EOF student, a tutor in TCNJ’s Tutoring Center, and is in the honors program at TCNJ. This summer, he plans to participate in a research experience at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Goldwater Scholarship honors students who plan to pursue graduate degrees in STEM fields. Only students with impressive academic and research credentials are chosen as scholarship recipients.

— Emily W. Dodd ’03