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Ruizhe Ma '12

“I have never expected that my DePauw experiences would have such a profound impact on me, especially in the aspects of shaping my path and defining my goals.”

Ruizhe (Richard) Ma ’12 had all his heart devoted to Economics when he first came to DePauw in 2008. “At that time, I was pretty interested in becoming a financial analyst in the banking sector and that was the main reason why I gave up my offer from Peking University, one of the most prestigious colleges in China, and came to the U.S.,” Richard recalls. So he soon declared his economics major in his freshman year, but thanks to DePauw’s liberal arts education, he managed to continue his interest in physics by becoming a double major in economics and physics. “I’ve liked physics since high school. It has always fascinated me how a set of simple equations could describe everyday phenomena.”

While Richard was working hard towards his dream of becoming a financial analyst, he also enjoyed studying physics and joined the Science Research Fellows honors program as a lateral-entry student in his sophomore year. When asked why joining the program, he says, “It is more like an emotional fulfillment. My grandparents and my parents are all engineers and I was very science-oriented in high school. I felt that it would be a great regret for me not to do any serious science research in college.”

In the spring semester and the summer of his sophomore year following his research on the light pollution in Greencastle and Putnam County with Prof. Mary Kertzman and other SRF students, Richard worked with Prof. Howard Brooks of the Physics Department studying cosmic radiation using weather balloons. He had chances to go to two academic conferences and presented his research results with his partner, Mark Tolley. “It was a great experience talking to the professionals in the field and presenting our own research,” Richard says. He enjoyed a lot launching the balloon and recovering it in the middle of a cornfield. “You would never know where it would land, be it in the middle of a corn field with 8 feet tall stalks or on the top of an 80 feet tree. But it is a lot of fun sweeping the area to search for our devices using a hand-held GPS.” Richard says.

With all the fun that the researched provided him, he realized what he really wanted. “I wanted to be a banker initially because everyone wanted to; it was more like a peer pressure than person aspirations. Now I realized that I really enjoyed doing science research, so why not doing it as a career?” Richard says. He finally decided to give up his plan of becoming an analyst, and instead dedicated to pursue a science research-based career.

To gain more experience in science research, Richard interned at Argonne National Laboratory in the summer of his junior year. There he worked on a data archiving software program for the synchrotron. “It was very challenging that prior to the project I have no experience in software development. I had to teach myself a lot of things before I can really work on the project, but I made it through.” Richard says. “I sought help from the researchers from this field and looked up related literature online. My previous research experiences really helped to get me on the right track”

To broaden his horizons and to see more of the world, Richard decided to study abroad for one semester. He spent a term at University of Oxford, UK in the fall semester of his junior year, where he met many new friends, toured around the UK, and enjoyed the different environment. “It was a fascinating experience to see how the Chinese, British, and American cultures differ and resemble to each other in various ways. I also enjoyed dining in the ‘Harry Potter Dining Hall’ at my college,” he adds.

Now Richard is interested in something else. He wants to study biological-inspired designs for mechanical systems. “Biomimetics is appealing because evolution has provided an enormous number of solutions to the obstacles set by nature. Evolution is a great source for innovation,” Richard says. He intends to pursue a PhD degree in mechanical engineering in the biomimetic area. To better prepare for his graduate study, he decided to graduate one semester early and took the advantage of the free semester studying some engineering courses that are not offered at DePauw.

“Although I am heading into engineering, I really appreciate the flexibility of DePauw’s liberal arts education. It allows me to try anything that I am interested in and gives me the chance to figure out what I really want for my life,” Richard says.

Having done research in physics, astronomy, and computer science, and having studied at top schools in China, the U.K, and the U.S, Richard is ready to start his next adventure.