Benjamin Kuznets-Speck named a 2017 Goldwater Scholar

By Brittany Moseley | April 10, 2017

image of ​​​​​​​Benjamin Kuznets-Speck

Benjamin Kuznets-Speck is one of 240 undergraduate students from across the country selected as a 2017 Goldwater Scholar. The junior mathematics and physics major will receive up to $7,500 his senior year to help cover the costs of tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Junior mathematics and physics major Nathaniel Starkman received an Honorable Mention. (Students who are nominated who do not receive a scholarship but who show exceptional promise may receive an Honorable Mention.)

"I applied for Goldwater because I thought it'd be a great way for me to put myself out there and showcase the research I've been working on, and it was one of the only scholarships targeted primarily toward math/science majors, which I found very attractive," Kuznets-Speck said when we spoke to him in December.

Kuznets-Speck knew he wanted to study physics after "an amazing experience" he had in introductory physics during his junior year of high school. "My teacher for this class was amazing and would lead you just to the brink of an answer, but actually let you solve the problem yourself, which was very refreshing.

"The thing I love most about physics would have to be that you start with such simple facts and observations," he continued. "It provides a clear framework on which to add to them, and before you know it, you have some amazing result you never would've been able to see from the onset."

In his recommendation letter to the Goldwater Foundation, Kuznets-Speck’s academic advisor, Dr. Harsh Mathur, praised Kuznets-Speck’s academic achievements and research interests. "I was delighted when Ben approached me at the end of the last semester to explore collaboration on a joint research project," Mathur wrote. "We have embarked on a study of a model of virus dynamics merging his interest in biophysics with my interests in dynamical systems. The project is at an early stage right now, but it is a pleasure to work with a student of Ben’s independence." He closed his letter with, "Ben is among the best students I have worked with at Case Western Reserve."

Kuznets-Speck is involved in several research endeavors on campus. "My current research focuses on the application of statistical physics, information theory, and optimization to complex biological systems," he explained. "At the moment, I’m working on four separate efforts exploring: the energetics of signaling at a cellular level; the connection of such signaling to lossy coding (a type of course-graining compression); the dynamics of molecular motors in cardiac muscle; and the possible emergence of transient chaos in epidemic spreading."

Kuznets-Specks has worked the longest with Dr. Michael Hinczewski, assistant professor of physics (and a former Goldwater Scholar himself). Dr. Hinczewski said he has come to rely on Kuznets-Speck for his "physical intuition, mathematical creativity, and perseverance." Dr. Hinczewski oversees Kuznets-Speck in the Theoretical Biophysics Research Group. "He's become a key member in our research efforts on signaling and motor proteins," Dr. Hinczewski said. "It's been wonderful to see him mature as a scientist over the last two years, and take the initiative in shaping research projects. I'm so happy that his work and talents have been highlighted by a Goldwater Scholarship, and I hope this bodes well for his future trajectory in science."

Students interested in applying for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship or other national fellowship and scholarship awards should review such opportunities posted by the Office of Undergraduate Studies and be in touch with Dean Amanda McCarthy, the undergraduate fellowship and scholarship advisor. Dean McCarthy is available to work with interested applicants on developing their credentials and applications, provide campus endorsement support as applicable, and hosts information session and workshops throughout the academic year in order to assist students in fellowship/scholarship endeavors.