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Honors and Awards in Physics and Astronomy


Bonner Book Awards (Undergraduate and Graduate Awards)

Tom Bonner was the second chair of the Rice physics department, serving from 1947 until his sudden death in 1961. The Bonner Nuclear Laboratories are named after him. He was a nuclear physicist of international renown. The American Physical Society awards the prestigious Bonner Prize in nuclear physics each year in his honor. Here at Rice we honor his memory through the Bonner Book Prizes, given each year to the most outstanding sophomore, junior, senior, and first year graduate students in physics. This award is made possible by the generous gift of Tom Bonner's daughter, Dr. Susan Bonner-Weir. The award monies are used for the purchase of books by the recipient(s). The 2016-2017 Bonner Book Award recipients are Sophomore -- Kelly Yao, Junior -- Raymond Fang, Senior -- Zhitao Chen, and first-year Graduate students -- none.

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Dessler Award (Undergraduate Award)

Alex Dessler came to Rice in 1963 and as the founding chair of what was then the nation's first Space Science Department. He served three terms as Chair of the Space Science Department or, as it was later called, the Space Physics and Astronomy Department. He had broad research interests, was a major contributor to the success of Space Physics and Astronomy at Rice and his impact continues to be felt. After his retirement from Rice in 1993, Dessler was a Senior Research Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona until 2007, and is now an Adjunct Professor of Atmospheric Science at Texas A&M. The Dessler award was established upon his retirement to recognize his many contributions to Rice University.  This award is presented to the best graduating senior in Astrophysics. The 2016-2017 Dessler Award recipient is Scott Carlsten.

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Heaps Prize (Undergraduate Award)

Professor Claude W. Heaps served on the faculty at Rice from about 1915 until his retirement in 1957. He taught introductory physics in the Physics and Astronomy Department for more than 20 years and was well known among both the humanities and science students for his lively lectures. This prize was established by his friends and family in 1960 as a memorial to his outstanding qualities as a teacher of undergraduate physics. The Heaps Prize is awarded to an undergraduate physics student(s) on the basis of excellence in a recent research project, often one leading to the senior thesis. The 2016-2017 Heaps Prize recipient is Benjamin Tran.

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Distinction in Research in Physics and Astronomy (Undergraduate Award)

The Distinction in Research in Physics and Astronomy is given in the year of graduation for a research accomplishment of exceptional quality, as judged by a committee of faculty based on one or more scientific documents describing a contribution to physics, astronomy, or related field. The 2015-2016 Distinction in Research in Physics and Astronomy recipients are Scott Carlsten, Mathieu Simeral, Benjamin Tran, Jeremy Kao and Daniel Williams.


The student should submit the related documents (such as a senior thesis, research paper or other appropriate documents) to the department for consideration.

The student must arrange for one or more supporting letter(s) to be submitted by the research mentor(s). If the documents submitted by the student have multiple authors the mentor’s letter must detail the student’s specific contributions.

The university requires that the student has a GPA of at least 3.30 for courses completed at Rice.

Projects completed in part or entirely at other institutions or with community partners will be eligible for consideration.

All nomination materials should be submitted electronically to the Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy by 5pm on the first Wednesday after the last day of classes in the spring semester.

Click here for Past Distinction in Research in Physics and Astronomy Recipients 

Chuoke Award (Graduate Award)

Robert Chuoke recieved his doctorate from Rice in 1953 under the direction of William Houston. He had a distinguished career at Shell Development Company, where he was highly regarded for his broad knowledge of physics, and for his special talent in teaching. His early death was a great loss to his family and friends. To honor his memory, this award was established in 1980 to recognize the second and third year graduate students who show the greatest promise in physics as evidenced by performance in course work and speedy progress in research. The 2016-2017 Chuoke Award recipients are second-year Graduate Students -- Nicholas Charron and Seth Davis.

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William and Elva Gordon Fellowship (Graduate Award)

Bill Gordon was a much-respected long-time member of the Space Physics and Astronomy Department who first came to Rice in 1966 as Dean. He retired twenty years later as Provost and Vice President. He made many contributions to science and engineering and was a member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. This, and his great service to Rice, is recognized by the fact that he is one of only two Emeritus Professors to hold the title of Distinguished. The award monies are given to the student(s) who demonstrated academic and research achievement in Space Physics or Astronomy. The  2015-2016 William and Elva Gordon Fellowship recipient is Will Barnes.

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William F. Marlar Scholarship (Graduate Award)

William F. Marlar was a businessman in Denver, Colorado, who was tragically disabled as a result of a robbery. His wife, Freda Marlar, assumed the management of the business, which prospered under her direction. She was a staunch American patriot and believer in the free enterprise system. At the time the Soviets launched Sputnick in 1957, she felt that American ingenuity and technical knowledge should be stimulated from the private sector in an effort to equal and eventually surpass the Soviet space accomplishments. To aid in this purpose she established the William F. Marlar Memorial Foundation, which has continued to promote her initial purposes, through university grants, since her death in 1968. The 2016-2017 William F. Marlar Scholarship recipient is Joseph Barchas.

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Umland Award (Graduate Award)

The Eric Umland award recognizes the graduate student(s) who has contributed most to the quality of graduate student life in the physics department. The award is presented in memory of Eric Umland who received his Ph.D. from this department in 1983. Eric was a student very much concerned with the quality of life in our department as well as being an outstanding young physicist. He left Rice for a prestigious fellowship at Cal Tech. He died tragically soon after arriving there in a plane crash. His family and friends have endowed this award in his memory. The 2016-2017 Umland award recipients are Sarah Grefe.

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Henry F. and Margaret Dunlap Fellowship (Graduate Award)

Henry Dunlap received his BS, MS and his PhD in nuclear physics from Rice Institute. Upon graduation, he became a research associate for the Naval Ordinance Laboratory and developed the radio proximity fuse that helped win World War II. Following the war, he was hired by Arco to head their research laboratory and became a consultant to the World Bank advising client governments how to improve their educational systems. The Dunlap Fellowship was established by Dr. Dunlap and his wife to encourage the advancement of physics at Rice University and is awarded to upper-level graduate students showing exceptional performance in research. The 2016-2017 Henry F. and Margaret Dunlap Fellowship recipients are Zhoudunming Tu and Li Yang.

Click here for Past Henry F. and Margaret Dunlap Fellowship Recipients 

Wilson Award (Graduate Award)

H. A. Wilson, hired by Edgar Lovett to come to Rice to be the first chair of the physics department. He arrived in 1912 to find a sea of mud with a few buildings under construction. He remained and served the university with distinction for 40 years. This award recognizes the most outstanding Ph.D. thesis in the department each year. The 2016-2017 Wilson Award recipient is Emil Nica and Melissa Revelle.

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Kevin E. Strecker Award (Graduate Award)  

The Kevin Strecker Award recognizes the most outstanding Masters thesis in the Department of Physics and Astronomy each year. It is intended to provide encouragement and recognition to an outstanding student who is near the half-way point toward the Ph.D. degree. It is named in honor of Kevin Strecker, who earned his Ph.D. in 2004 for his work on tunable interactions in quantum degenerate lithium. Kevin, who was a gifted experimentalist, pioneered the Feshbach resonance in lithium to create novel states of matter including matter wave solitons of attractively interacting Bose-Einstein condensates and strongly interacting Fermi gases. Following Rice, he joined the Sandia National Laboratories in California where he had a short, but remarkable career. Sadly, Kevin died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 38. Kevin's family and friends have endowed this award in his memory. Information on donating to this award fund can be found here. The inaugural 2016-2017 Kevin E. Strecker award recipient is Roger Ding.

Click here for all other Award Recipients 

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