Home Carrollton Reaching for the stars: Recent UWG grad radiates success in physics program

Reaching for the stars: Recent UWG grad radiates success in physics program

University of West Georgia physics major Mabel Stephenson has spent most of her life looking into the past.

She often wondered about the idea of nothing becoming something within the chasm of the universe. Stephenson later began a life path researching this question.

A passion for astronomy led the newly graduated physicist not only to start to understand the questions she longed to answer but to earn several opportunities in pursuit of answering them, including research grants, authored publications and a plethora of awards.

“When I was young, I was the child who would read textbooks for fun,” said Stephenson, a Newnan native. “I always had an interest in science and space, and after taking Dual Enrollment classes at UWG in high school, I met Associate Professor of Physics Dr. Nicholas Sterling and was awestruck once I learned that I could research astronomy as my career.”

From there, Sterling aided Stephenson as she transitioned to her college career at UWG and continues to provide support as she progresses into her professional career as an astrophysicist. Stephenson became a published research author while pursuing her undergraduate degree.

“My research was published as part of the University of Texas’ Research Experience for Undergraduates program and involved studying how the universe chemically evolves over time and how that impacts the evolution of galaxies and the universe as a whole,” explained Stephenson. “It predominantly researched the chemical evolution of nitrogen and oxygen, while my work at UWG involved similar research of heavier elements such as iron. I hope to write another research publication that connects my specific research at UWG to my studies of lighter elements in my published work.”

Stephenson continues to excel in her field, receiving a National Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award for her research presentation from the American Astronomical Society.

“All of the support from the physics program and astronomy professors have had an impact on refining my presentation skills as a researcher, improving as a communicator and encouraging individuals to get excited about research reports,” said Stephenson. “Getting the presentation award was a genuinely amazing moment because I know it wasn’t just me who put in the work.”

Stephenson’s research is now leading her to progress into new projects funded by the National Science Foundation as she looks back on her undergraduate career at UWG.

“I am starting a new project modeling the ionization of elements present in nebulae and working on a publication for a project with Professor Sterling regarding a remote observation of a telescope in Hawaii,” stated Stephenson.

As Stephenson ventures forward to obtain a graduate degree at a top-10 institution for astronomy, the University of Texas at Austin, she continues to look back at UWG with endearment of her time spent with the physics program and the overall Department of Natural Sciences.

“UWG has been life-changing for me,” continued Stephenson. “In the past three years, we’ve begun groundbreaking work, and the faculty have taught me more than they’ll ever know. I worked extremely hard, but they made those gateways possible for me, especially as an undergraduate. I hope I have taken full advantage of everything they offered me.”

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