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Physics and Mathematics Major Chance Baggett ’24 Named an Astronaut Scholar
Chance Baggett, a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying physics and mathematics and a member of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, has been named a 2023-24 Astronaut Scholar by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF).
Founded by the Mercury 7 astronauts, the foundation awards scholarships to students in their junior or senior year who are pursuing a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree with intentions to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their degrees. Astronaut Scholars are among the best and brightest minds in STEM who show initiative, creativity and excellence in their chosen field.
After graduating from Syracuse, Baggett plans to pursue a doctoral degree and research career in the field of physics. His current research, under the mentorship of Professor Christian Santangelo, focuses on theoretical self-folding origami, an emerging branch of soft matter physics, with a particular focus on the role of elasticity in origami, which helps shed light on how certain physical materials function. Future implications of this work include in the fields of medicine, such as determining how misfolded proteins contribute to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and space science, helping researchers engineer unique solutions to solar array deployment.
“I find soft matter physics incredibly exciting because it gives me the opportunity to research systems at a scale I can hold in my hand. Paper-folding, beyond a scientific pursuit, allows me to express my creativity in my work,” says Baggett. In addition to his scientific aptitude and curiosity, he has had a personal interest in paper craft since middle school, when he used specialized software to create 3D models of props found in movies or video games from paper. “That’s one thing that excited me about being nominated for the Astronaut Scholarship—it mentioned the role of creativity and the artistic aspect of science, which is really cool to see.”
The Astronaut Scholarship includes funding of up to $15,000 toward educational expenses, a paid trip to the ASF Innovators Week and Gala in Orlando in August, where Baggett will receive the award, and lifelong mentoring and engagement opportunities with the astronauts, Astronaut Scholar alumni, industry leaders and the ASF.
“Chance’s commitment to a research career, and his pursuit of research opportunities in mathematics and physics since his first year at SU, made him an excellent candidate for the Astronaut Scholarship,” says Jolynn Parker, director of the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA). “We’re delighted this award will support him in the work he aims to do in soft matter physics.”
Studying remotely in his first year at Syracuse, Baggett became interested in theoretical particle physics and conducted research with Professor Paul Souder. After taking nuclear physics, he embarked on a research project modeling gamma flux through lead using Geant4 software simulations. This work culminated in an oral presentation at the Syracuse Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Engagement (SOURCE) Research Festival this past spring, where Baggett illustrated a counterintuitive relationship between particle flux and lead thickness.
For the next phase of his research career, Baggett will continue his exploration of soft matter physics and hopes to pursue study in atomic molecular and optical (AMO) physics at the graduate level. This summer, he received funding to conduct a National Science Foundation REU (research experience for undergraduates) project on theoretical ultracold atomic physics at Washington State University and plans to use the opportunity to explore the critical role that atomic physics plays in nano-scale origami mechanisms.
“I really love physics, and even after four years of studying, it feels like I’m only at the surface,” Baggett says. “I’m still itching to learn more, and there’s so much more to explore, so I’m compelled to keep learning physics for as long as I can.”
“The 2023 Class of Astronaut Scholars is truly exceptional and embodies the passion, dedication and innovation that will propel us into the future of STEM,” says Caroline Schumacher, ASF’s president and CEO. “We are excited to support these outstanding individuals in their endeavors and cannot wait to witness their achievements as the game-changers of tomorrow.”
Created in 1984, ASF awarded its first seven scholarships in honor of its founding members, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton. Each founding member sponsored a $1,000 scholarship and began to fundraise to support future scholarships by donating proceeds from their speaking engagements. The incredible efforts of these legends have shaped ASF’s mission to support and reward exceptional college students pursuing degrees in STEM fields. Over the past 39 years, more than $8.3 million has been awarded to nearly 800 students.
As a university partner of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, Syracuse University can nominate two students for the Astronaut Scholarship each year. Interested students should contact CFSA for information on the nomination process (email@example.com; 315.443.2759). More information on the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation can be found on its website.