Move over, Bill Nye. Penn State Behrend has its own ‘Science Guy’

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Joel Solomon (3)

Joel Solomon, a physics major, was the recipient of this year’s T. Reed Ferguson Award. The award recognizes a junior who has demonstrated scholarship, leadership and citizenship through academic and out-of-class involvement and gives promise of further achievement in the senior year.

For some kids, it’s Cartoon Network. For others, it’s Nickelodeon. For Joel Solomon, it was the Science channel?

“Growing up, I just always watched that channel,” says Solomon, who recently completed his junior year at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. “I was fascinated by what humanity has been able to do over the years, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.”

Math and science resonated with Solomon, and that interest led the New Wilmington, Pa., native to Penn State Behrend. As he got older, he knew he wanted to pursue research in college, and he could think of no better destination than Behrend.

“Being able to get a great education at a small campus is great,” says Solomon, a physics major. “I was looking for a research-oriented institution, and Behrend is one of the few schools in the region that offers such opportunities. I know that with a degree from here, I can go anywhere that I choose.”

This past year, Solomon collaborated with Bruce Wittmershaus, associate professor of physics, on a research project titled, “Concentration Dependence of Coated Gold Nanoparticles for Metal Enhanced Fluorescence.” The project was recognized as the Best Poster Presentation this past April at the Sigma Xi Undergraduate Student Research and Creative Accomplishment Conference.

Undergraduate research has been a big part of his time at the college, but Solomon’s interests go beyond the academic realm. For the past three years, he’s been a goalie on the men’s soccer team. This past year, Solomon was inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma, a national society that honors collegiate student-athletes who excel in both the classroom and in athletic competition. The society recognizes student-athletes who received a varsity letter in their sport while maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or higher throughout their junior and/or senior years. Solomon is also a former AMCC All-Academic selection.

“I feel as if soccer complements my academics. Just being physically active helps me keep up with my coursework,” he says.

Solomon’s accomplishments on the field and in the classroom played a key role in his receiving the 2014-15 T. Reed Ferguson Award last April at the college’s 66th annual Honors and Awards Convocation. The award recognizes a junior who has demonstrated scholarship, leadership and citizenship through academic and out-of-class involvement and gives promise of further achievement in the senior year.

“I was very happy to receive the award, and it was nice to know my work is paying off,” Solomon says. “It just reassured me that I’m on the right path, but I know there’s more that I can do.”

Solomon will get the chance to fulfill that promise of further achievement this fall, continuing his undergraduate research as the recipient of a grant to explore the topic of “Enhancing the Photostability of Fluorophores Using Metal Enhanced Fluorescence.”

For the future, Solomon plans to attend graduate school and possibly work with optics. His ultimate goal, though, has its roots in the programs he watched on Science as a boy.

“My dream job is always going to be something with NASA. I have always been fascinated by all of NASA’s accomplishments,” he says, “so that’s the dream, and that’s what I’ll keep working toward.”

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