Saint Ignatius High School

Alumnus Excels in Science

Christopher Bambic '14 receives the prestigious Churchill Scholarship from the University of Maryland’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences. He will spend next year completing his master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Christopher Bambic is one of two seniors in the University of Maryland’s College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences (CMNS) who has received a 2018 Winston Churchill Scholarship, which offers full funding to pursue one-year master’s degrees at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Nationally, 15 students in the sciences, engineering or mathematics receive Churchill Scholarships annually. Only two UMD students previously received the award since its inception in 1963, and this is the first time two were selected in the same year. The scholarship—valued at $50,000 to $60,000—covers all educational fees and provides living and travel allowances.

A physics and astronomy dual-degree student, Bambic—who is a Stamps Banneker/Key Scholar and a member of the University Honors program within the Honors College—will pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in astronomy. He plans to study the connection between microscale plasma physics and macroscale astrophysical phenomena.

Following his time in Cambridge, Bambic plans to pursue doctoral degrees in the United States and ultimately pursue academic careers.

“We are extremely proud of Christopher and Yousuf, who have both managed to combine excellent academic records with outstanding research achievements,” said Gerald Wilkinson, interim dean of CMNS. “They are superb representatives of the college. Their success in such a prestigious competition is testimony to their abilities and the education they have received at the University of Maryland.”

The Churchill Scholarship will allow Bambic, a 2017 Goldwater Scholar, to combine his unique experiences in astrophysics, plasma physics and astronomy to conduct both theoretical and experimental research at the University of Cambridge. There, he will work with Christopher Reynolds, a professor of astronomy at UMD who was recently named Plumian Professor of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, and Andrew Fabian, director of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge.

“Chris is an extraordinary young scientist,” Reynolds said. “He has a ‘trap door mind’—you only have to tell him something once and he gets it.”

For two years, Bambic conducted research with Reynolds examining the physics of the plasma that surrounds clusters of galaxies and the role magnetic fields play in active galactic nuclei feedback. Bambic is working to develop a theory of how energy is transferred from supermassive black hole jets to the hot plasma surrounding galaxies.

He spent last summer at the University of Cambridge in Fabian’s lab using X-ray spectral data collected by an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s XMM Newton space telescope to research the roles of turbulence and sound waves in heating the plasma in galaxy clusters. He received an Undergraduate Summer Research, Travel and Educational Enrichment Award from the CMNS Alumni Network to pursue this work.

“I am interested in using supercomputer simulations, analytical work, and X-ray and gamma ray observations to elucidate the complex physics of systems such as black holes, astrophysical jets, gamma ray bursts and the hot intracluster medium in clusters of galaxies,” Bambic said.

Bambic has also studied the dissipation of sound waves within plasmas with UMD Physics Professor William Dorland and conducted research on the High Altitude Water Cherenkov (HAWC) Gamma-Ray Observatory with UMD Distinguished University Professor of Physics Jordan Goodman.

“Chris is one of the most engaged and ambitious undergraduate students I have seen in my entire career,” Goodman said. “In a day when many of the best students are a mile deep and an inch wide, Chris distinguishes himself with both the depth and breadth of his experience and knowledge.”

Bambic has submitted two first-author journal articles for publication and presented his research at four conferences. He was named a 2017-18 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar and was inducted into the Sigma Pi Sigma physics honor society. He serves as president of the AstroTerps student astronomy club, is a member of the Society of Physics Students club, and tutors other students in physics and astronomy. He also volunteers his time in the local community through activities with the Catholic Student Center and the Knights of Columbus.