Florida State student receives prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Alan Kuhnle

A Florida State University student who is pursuing research in the unique field of mathematical biology has received a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to the nation’s brightest mathematics, science and engineering college sophomores and juniors.

Alan Kuhnle, a junior mathematics major from Oxford, Miss., was one of 278 U.S. students to receive a 2009-10 scholarship. The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,097 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by university faculty members. The Goldwater is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

The one- and two-year scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

"Alan is an exceptional student in a difficult field of study," said Meredith Simpson, interim director of The Florida State University Office of National Fellowships. "Being chosen as a Goldwater Scholar is wonderful recognition of all of his hard work."

Florida State has had 18 Goldwater Scholars since the first awards were presented in 1989, a testament to the university’s strength in science, math and engineering, according to Simpson. In addition, the Goldwater Foundation recognized Kuhnle last year with an honorable mention.

"What makes Alan special is not just his considerable mathematical and computational skills but even more his independence of thought and his drive to see a project through with minimal guidance," said Per Arne Rikvold, the James G. Skofronick Professor of Physics, who nominated Kuhnle for the award. "I believe he has a future as a creative and productive research scientist ahead of him."

Although only a junior, Kuhnle has already been published in a prestigious physics journal. Under the direction of Rikvold, Kuhnle worked with a doctoral student on a computational study of materials for the next generation of computer hard drives. He was credited as a co-author on the paper when it was published in The Physical Review B.

Kuhnle recently received a $4,000 Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award from the Office of National Fellowships to study "The Effects of Invasion on the Evolutionary Structure of Multispecies Communities." For the project, he has written his own computer program and will use computer models designed by Rikvold to simulate the evolution of an ecosystem and analyze how the introduction of species foreign to an ecosystem would change the simulated statistics.

The project came about after Rikvold gave Kuhnle a stack of research papers on evolutionary ecology and told him to read them and find specific problems to study.

"This is something I would only do with an extremely talented and self-motivated student — exactly the stuff Goldwater Scholars are made of," Rikvold said.

After graduation, Kuhnle plans to earn a doctorate in mathematics, specializing in mathematical physics, and pursue an academic career.

"Naturally, I’m pleased to have my work recognized by receiving a Goldwater Scholarship," he said. "It’s an honor to have been selected."

Congress established the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program in 1986 to honor Goldwater, who served his country for 56 years as a soldier and a statesman, including 30 years as a U.S. senator. The scholarship program was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering.