Senior Jason Tabachnik makes CWRU history as first Gates Cambridge Scholar

Jason TabachnikFor the first time, a Case Western Reserve University student has been named a U.S. Gates Cambridge Scholar.

Jason Tabachnik, 22, a 2009 Beachwood High School graduate, is among 39 new scholars announced yesterday. He’s on schedule to graduate and also receive his master’s degree in physics in May, earning straight A’s during his four years here. As a Gates Cambridge Scholar, Tabachnik will pursue a master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Cambridge.

The scholarship program was established through a $210 million donation to the University of Cambridge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2001, which remains the largest single donation to a university in the United Kingdom. Competition is fierce, and the program is unique in its emphasis on social leadership as well as outstanding academic ability.

“With this award, I’m now focusing on having a big impact through my studies,” Tabachnik said. “Before, I just wanted to do my best.”

Tabachnik said he’s excited to learn from other Gates Cambridge scholars when school starts next fall.

“I’ll meet intellectuals in all different fields and learn their concerns for the world,” he said.

While Tabachnik plans, ultimately, to become a theoretical condensed-matter physicist, he also intends to work closely with experimentalists to develop new technologies that benefit people.

“If someone in the developing world needs a new material or device, I can work on that,” he said. “I would work on fundamental advances that others can use.”

Tabachnik applied for the scholarship after several advisers said the master’s degree in mathematics, called Part III of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge, is the finest preparation for a mathematics or physics PhD program.

Physics professor Harsh Mathur, who is Tabachnik’s adviser and frequently his teacher, called him one of the two or three best students he’s encountered in more than 15 years teaching.

“Jason’s performance in the classroom and in research shows he is a student of exceptional promise and ambition,” Mathur said. “He has the capacity to grow into a leader in physics.”

Tabachnik is a mathematics and physics major who earned 30 college credits taking Advanced Placement classes in high school and began taking graduate courses as a sophomore at Case Western Reserve.

He began research as a first-year student, working with physics professor Philip Taylor on entropic forces, mechanics and thermodynamics. Last year, Tabachnik received a Barry M. Goldwater scholarship after developing mathematical models showing that an anti-laser could be used as the basis for a highly efficient solar cell. He performed the work under Mathur’s guidance.

From those projects, Trabachnik co-authored two papers that are under review at research journals.

This year, he is working with physics professor Andrew Tolley, examining the larger implications of recently discovered dualities among gravity, fluids and string particles.

This year, Case Western Reserve is among 12 U.S. universities represented by scholars for the first time. Included are public and private institutions, ranging from liberal arts colleges to research universities. This brings the total number of U.S. institutions with Gates Cambridge Scholars to 183.

The other 11 institutions with Gates Scholars for the first time are: Christopher Newport University (Va.), DePauw University (Ind.), Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering (Mass.), Lewis and Clark College (Ore.), Naropa University (Col.), Salisbury University (Md.), San Juan College (N.M.), State University of New York at Binghamton (N.Y.), University of Maryland, College Park (Md.), University of New Mexico (N.M.) and Wellesley College (Mass.).

The 39 new scholars, who will study for a variety of one-year courses and doctoral degrees, were whittled down from an initial field of 769 applicants. The 83 shortlisted candidates were interviewed in Washington, D.C., earlier this month by Cambridge and U.S. academics.

The U.S. scholars will join 50 scholars from other parts of the world to be announced later this year. At any one time there are almost 250 Gates Cambridge Scholars at the University of Cambridge—one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities.

“We are delighted to announce our new U.S. Scholars,” said professor Robert Lethbridge, provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust. “They are an outstanding group of individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds.  They fully meet the criteria of the scholarship in being both intellectually outstanding and having a capacity for leadership and a commitment to improving the lives of others. They should be proud of this achievement and we can expect much of them.”

Tabachnik, who plans to pursue his PhD in the U.K. or the U.S., expects to embrace all that is Cambridge while overseas. He hopes to try out for a crew team at Churchill College, where he’ll be studying. The college is the national and commonwealth memorial to Sir Winston Churchill, and, says the university, the embodiment of Churchill’s vision of how higher education can benefit society. The college counts 20 Nobel prizewinners among its members.