The Fermi paradox explains the possibility of finding life in our galaxy. It states that intelligent life is highly probable, but humans have yet to make contact with extraterrestrial life. This apparent contradiction’s explanation motivates sophomore physics major Skylar Deckoff-Jones, who recently won the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship.
The Goldwater Scholarship is awarded to students who demonstrate a dedication to research in the fields of math, science and engineering, and finances up to $7,500 of tuition expenses. Goldwater Scholarships were awarded to 283 students across the nation this year. The application process involves gathering three letters of recommendation and preparing a two-page research proposal. Deckoff-Jones said he went through nine rounds of edits to his proposal before submitting it.
Deckoff-Jones said he has always been interested in science but did not become interested in research until after high school. He worked at the Los Alamos observatory in his home state of New Mexico before coming to Tulane, but felt like he was not able to provide much to the observatory.
“I sort of liked [working at the observatory], but as a high school senior, I didn’t really know enough to allow them to take advantage of my skills, so I ended up doing a lot of simple programming for them,” Deckoff-Jones said.
Deckoff-Jones said he developed a passion for the materials sciences after working in physics professor Diyar Talbayev’s laboratory at Tulane. Deckoff-Jones said his work there inspired him to choose scientific research as a profession.
“[Talbayev] actually gave me significant work that felt like I was doing something, like aligning the laser beam,” Deckoff-Jones said. “What we do is Terahertzspectroscopy of different novel materials. This past summer was the first time that I decided I really do want to pursue research as a career in physics.”
Sophomore engineering physics major Alyssa Chuang said she thinks that Deckoff-Jones is dedicated to his research.
“[Deckoff-Jones] is one of the people who is interested in research, not just to do research but because he is genuinely interested in learning something new about a topic or discovering something that adds to the body of knowledge we have,” Chuang said. “He’s not just doing it for his resume or just because he feels like this is something he’s supposed to do.”
Sophomore Nick Farrar-Foley, one of Deckoff-Jones’ suitemates, said their friendship often consists of spirited debates and that Deckoff-Jones always respects outside opinions.
“[Deckoff-Jones] and I will often kind of argue about things, but it’s always a discussion,” Farrar-Foley said. “Homework in some of the classes we’re in right now is very confusing and very long. We’ll pose questions to each other, and he’s always very open to that. He’s not afraid of being wrong at first for the sake of learning. He’s not afraid to make mistakes.”
Deckoff-Jones plans to attend graduate school to earn a doctorate. He said receiving the scholarship would assist him in accomplishing this goal.
“I’m thrilled,” Deckoff-Jones said. “The money’s nice, but [the scholarship is] confirmation that the work I’m doing and writing about is worthwhile. Big-name scientists were the ones looking over these applications. At this point, I already knew I wanted to go to grad school, but it reaffirms that is an option that I should go for.”