Erin Barillier receives Baines Family Planetary Science Scholarship

Throughout my time studying Physics at WashU, I’ve found incredible support from the community of undergraduates, graduate students, professors, and researchers, without which I wouldn’t feel nearly as grounded or confident in my academic career. From my first semester on campus, I relied on the help and advice of Professor Hynes, who was both my 4-year advisor and my professor for my first introductory mechanics course. When I was looking for a supportive community at WashU - especially when I was intimidated by the proportion of male to female students in the department - I looked to Professor Hynes, Professor Piarulli, and many of the other incredible female professors, researchers, and grad students in our department. In particular, the Society of Women in Physics helped me find a community that supports each other and helps advocate for each other in a field that we all love.


In addition, my research with Professor Nowak has been a truly incredible experience for me and has helped me to develop both as a student and as a researcher. Since the fall semester of my first year, I’ve been working with Professor Nowak on X-ray observations of the black hole candidate 4U1957+11. Our goal is to model the mass, distance, size, inclination, and spin of this unique object, which may be the fastest spinning black hole in our galaxy. I’ve utilized observations from both the NuSTAR and the NICER telescopes to look at some of the most extreme environments in the universe. Thanks to support from the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences, I have dedicated two summers to in-depth internships furthering the results of this project. I’ve also had the incredible opportunity of hearing graduate students discuss their projects throughout every stage, from development to results and analysis, including hearing about Professor Krawczynski and his group’s work on the X-CALIBUR mission to measure X-ray polarization. As a part of the Physics community on campus, I’ve also been able to take advantage of some of the incredible opportunities that are offered, including a lecture and lunch with Nobel Laureate Professor Kip Thorne! I’ve had the honor of speaking with some of our guest lecturers to discuss their research projects and hear about their own experiences in Physics, and it’s only inspired me to continue my studies in the field.

Going forward, I hope to continue pursuing my passion for physics through graduate school, looking forward to a career as a professor or researcher. I want to help inspire others in the same way that such amazing women have helped encourage me to begin and further my career in Physics. This community is dedicated to understanding the fabric of the universe, and I’m proud to be a part of the Physics community at WashU. I am very grateful to both the Baines Family and the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences for their ongoing support as well as to both Professor Nowak and Professor Hynes and all of the faculty in the Physics department.

Erin was nominated by Professor Michael Nowak and he adds, “Undergraduate research was an important part of my own education, and it’s been incredibly rewarding to be part of that here at WUSTL.  The enthusiasm and dedication of the WUSTL students in general, and Erin in particular, to learning through research has been infectious.  She’s made very important contributions to our work together, and I’m confident that we’ll be publishing this research well before she graduates.  Both the Department of Physics and the McDonnell Center have been instrumental in supporting our work together.  It’s been a privilege to help Erin on this first step of what I hope becomes a fruitful research career for her.”