On the Brink of Discovery

It was during Mrs. Carolyn Moser’s 8th-grade science class that TFS alumnus Nathan Vaughn discovered his love of science and launched his journey into a discipline that led him to his current role as a research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  

The hands-on experiments, the large variety of animals in her classroom and Mrs. Moser’s passion for science really fostered my interest in the field – even if I got in trouble one time for taking a pet out of the science room,” Vaughn jokes. “This positive experience in middle school definitely encouraged me to follow my own passion for science through high school and beyond.”

Vaughn started at TFS in 5th grade and after graduating in 2007, he continued his education at Cardinal Gibbons High School. After high school graduation, he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics and applied mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his Ph.D. in applied and interdisciplinary mathematics at the University of Michigan. 

The research he’ll be conducting at Los Alamos will be a continuation of his studies at University of Michigan – in the field of computational physics. 

“Scientists have discovered equations that describe all aspects of nature, ranging from things like how a water flows over a waterfall, to how chemical reactions occur in your phone battery, to how a star explodes at the end of its life. Many of those equations can’t be solved analytically – with pencil and paper – however, they can be solved numerically, with a computer,” Vaughn explains. “Still, depending on the physical situation, solving these equations numerically may take months or years even on a supercomputer. As a computational physicist, I work on numerical methods for solving these types of equations accurately and efficiently, in order to enable us to simulate and investigate the physical world on computers.”  

His work requires a lot of discipline, and he credits his time at TFS for instilling a sense of responsibility in him from a young age.

“I learned a lot both in and out of the classroom at TFS. Middle school was when we started having much more responsibility; we were taking classes with many different teachers, we had extracurricular activities, and we weren’t under a microscope the whole time,” Vaughn remembers. “It was our responsibility to keep track of our duties and get things done. This is when I developed time management and other skills that helped me throughout the high school and college years as the level of responsibility continued to increase.”

As for current TFS students, Vaughn offers some words of advice.

“Do your best but don’t sweat every small detail, and enjoy your time at TFS,” Vaughn says. “And if you’re interested in a topic, go talk to your teacher about it.”

After all, you never know where that interest may lead!