Jenny Coulter, a junior from Manasquan, New Jersey, hopes to become a physics professor

Jenny Coulter, a junior physics major and Goldwater Scholar
Photo: Courtesy of Jenny Coulter

Jenny Coulter thought she might study art in college. Then she took a physics class in high school.

“I did an about-face. I went into the class thinking I would fail, and came out with an entirely different perspective on math and science,” said Coulter, a Rutgers junior majoring in physics in the School of Arts and Sciences. She's been named one of 252 Goldwater Scholars in the nation for the 2016-17 academic year.

Undergraduate students in Rutgers’ Department of Physics and Astronomy have won an impressive 13 Goldwater Scholarships overall, including the last seven years in a row.
The scholarship – which awards up to $7,500 toward tuition, fees, books, and room and board – is the premier undergraduate award of its kind in the fields of mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, endowed by the federal government, honors former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater.

“I’m honored,” said Coulter, 20, who is from Manasquan. “It’s a tremendous deal for a student doing research to receive that award.”

At Rutgers, Coulter has conducted solar cell research in the School of Engineering, working with Dunbar P. Birnie III, professor of materials science and engineering. She also researches high energy heavy-ion nuclear physics, working with Sevil Salur, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Such research is based on the collision of lead ions at tremendous speeds at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, the foremost particle accelerator in the world.

Birnie said Coulter was the top student in his solar cells class last fall.

“Certainly, she is one of the best students I’ve had,” Birnie said. “She’s going to be a very collegial and collaborative scientist in the future, and I’m happy that she’s gotten a start working with me.”

After graduating from Rutgers, Coulter is contemplating pursuing a doctorate in physics.

“I might continue in academia and look for a career as a professor in physics,” she said. “I’m sure it’s going to depend on what opportunities are out there, but I really like the university environment and it would be wonderful to continue to be a part of it.”

Coulter credits Stephen Godkin, a Rutgers alumnus who taught her physics at Communications High School in Wall, for sparking her interest in the field, as well as Douglass Residential College, which facilitated her forays into research during the first two summers after she arrived at Rutgers. She also credits her parents, Donna and John Coulter, both Rutgers alumni. “My parents have been really supportive of my interests, too. Neither of them knew to encourage me towards physics.”

Arthur D. Casciato, director of Rutgers’ Office of Distinguished Fellowships, said that Rutgers has doubled the number of Goldwater scholars in recent years. “We’ve had eight Goldwater Scholars from physics in the last nine years, three of them women,” he said. “Like those who preceded her, Jen Coulter is a tremendously deserving candidate, supported by the kind of detailed, specific and enthusiastic letters of recommendation we’ve come to expect from physics faculty.”

Patrick Darcy, a junior majoring in genetics at Rutgers, earned an honorable mention from the Goldwater Scholarship program this year.

For more information, please contact Science Communicator Todd B. Bates at or 848-932-0550.