Amelia Reilly '22, physics major, is a 2021 STEM Star

Amelia Reilly ’22, physics major, is applying to graduate schools with teaching fellowships.

By Shannon Sigafoos

As a first-year student, Amelia Reilly ’22 traveled 4,676 miles from Easton, Pa., to Liberia, West Africa. There, as she taught basic laboratory skills and procedures to students at the Liberia Renaissance Education Complex, she fell in love with teaching for the first time. Now, four years later, she’s more than ready to continue making a difference as an educator. 

“When I went to Liberia during my first-year winter break, I didn’t really know what to expect or what I was even going to be doing there. But I knew that I wanted to do something different. It was my first time teaching, and I was working with other teachers over there but also had the opportunity to teach on my own,” recalls Reilly. “I really enjoyed working with the students to show them things they had never done before.”

Upon her return home, Reilly became a supplemental instructor in the physics department, helping to teach Physics 111 and 112, which is a position she still holds today and calls a “rewarding experience.”

Despite Lafayette’s lack of a structured physics education program, Reilly and her peers Carlito Maca ’22 and Evan Braasch ’22 have all taken the initiative and found opportunities to pursue their passions for both physics and teaching. Reilly has especially enjoyed the research she’s done as a physics EXCEL Research Scholar, working with Christopher Hawley, assistant professor of physics, on the development of nanoscale materials using one atom at a time.

“It was immediately apparent to me that Amelia is an especially bright student and is extraordinarily able to be self-driven on projects. She impressed me with her quickness, drive, resourcefulness, writing and speaking skills, and dedication to her work; expressed both through her research as well as her later work in my physics classes,” says Hawley. “Amelia did her second EXCEL project with me during our remote teaching year at Lafayette, where she designed a prototype scanning photocurrent apparatus in collaboration with an industry collaborator of mine, Dr. Terrence McGuckin, at Ephemeron Labs. Showing great maturity and poise throughout, she did all this work remotely using computer-aided design (CAD) while having Zoom calls with myself and Terrence to iterate on the apparatus. Now that COVID protocols allow work to continue on campus, this apparatus has been built, and Amelia has finally seen her design realized.”

A strong work ethic and a natural curiosity for physics is also what helped guide Reilly to two consecutive summer internships at the Princeton Plaza Physics Laboratory (PPPL), where she worked on edge turbulence in tokamak plasmas (in 2019) and on various projects in the science education department (in 2020). Though her most recent internship experience was virtual, she was still able to help PPPL with a number of projects, including the creation of an evaluation guide for informal science education programs.

Reilly is currently applying to graduate schools with teaching fellowships, and is hoping to secure a position in a program that offers an intensive yearlong program and residency at a high school. Once her graduate degree is completed, she’s hoping to find a home for a while with a high-needs school district. All of this, she acknowledges, would not be possible without the support she’s received from the Lafayette Physics Department.

“The department as a whole has done a great deal to support us [Reilly, Braasch, and Maca],” she says. “Whatever we have wanted to learn more about, they’ve helped make it happen. Anytime I’ve reached out to the department for advice on something, they’ve always had something or someone to help me. I want to be able to do that for someone in the future.” 

Read about other STEM Stars.

Categorized in: Academic News, Innovation and Research, News and Features, Physics, Research, STEM, Students