During her years at Marblehead High School, Samantha Livermore excelled in her biology and chemistry classes, but a spark took off when she took physics for the advanced internship. “I found the class really difficult and I enjoyed that frustration,” said Livermore. “It was always a puzzle to find out, and I really liked that.”
A longtime fan of âDr. Who, âand since childhood fascinated by everything to do with space, she realized that a whole group of scientists were out there trying to figure out how the universe was created. Her innate curiosity and passion for science led her to Tufts University, where she was one of only five female undergraduate programs in physics in 2021.
At Tufts, a private college of about 6,000 students, Livermore had the opportunity to take challenging courses such as Intro to Computation and Quantum Computing, a difficult, theory-based course, and Intermediate Astrophysics, which are fundamental subjects in this field.
After the first two years, when many classes include labs, physics majors focus on extensive, advanced math courses. “It was definitely not easy, and depending on the physics class and professor, there were a wide variety of classes that took whatever I had and others that were easier and more enjoyable,” Livermore said.
Research is an important part of any physics education and Livermore had the opportunity to stay on campus in the summer after her sophomore year and conduct hard material research in ultra-high vacuum in the laboratory of her advisor Roger Tobin. “It was a wonderful experience and I am very grateful to this professor because our work has been less about discovering something and more about teaching physics in a laboratory,” said Livermore.
In the summer of her junior year, she applied and was accepted for the Science Undergraduate Lab Internship Program at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Palo Alto, California. Livermore was thrilled to be working with powerful lasers that do high energy density science, but COVID thwarted those plans.
Her internship became a distant experience and she received a high energy astrophysics project studying gamma-ray bursts, which are the brightest and most powerful explosions in the universe alongside the Big Bang.
Livermore expanded her research on gamma-ray bursts by making it the subject of her thesis, which is not a requirement for physics majors, but a recommended project for students pursuing a degree in the field.
The faculty and physics department at Tufts do a good job of involving the students in the program, and Livermore has been paid to grade assignments for introductory courses and teach younger students. She also worked as a teaching assistant for a mechanics course, where she could help design experiments, which she found rewarding and fun.
The open-minded young scientist, whose grandfather was a chemist and whose father works in the field of energy efficiency, also has a creative side. Livermore has a great love of music and has performed with an all-gender a cappella group called Tufts SQ! for almost four years. Prior to COVID-19, the vocal group rehearsed seven hours a week and traveled on weekends for performances in and outside of Massachusetts. Livermore says most of her best friends sing alongside her, “This group really shaped my time at Tufts.”
A special weekend experience during her junior year set the course for Livermore’s immediate future. For a conference she wanted to attend, she had applied for funding through the physics department. They paid for this and suggested that she attend the Physics Students Conference that was held on the Yale University campus. This groundbreaking experience changed everything. Inspired by the PhD students and faculty she met there, Livermore decided that graduate school was the right choice for her. In autumn she will start her doctoral thesis. in physics from the University of Chicago.
“I’m definitely excited and a little intimidated because six years is a huge commitment,” says Livermore, who said she has to decide which part of physics to focus on. She is interested in soft matter physics and quantum science, which are very different disciplines. Your ideal career path after completing your Ph.D. would be to work in industry for a few years and then embark on an academic career.
Livermore recalls that four years ago she had painfully pondered whether to choose Tufts, a private institution with a high price tag, or enroll in a more affordable school that allowed her to go but wasn’t nearly as excited to be to visit you.
The reasons for enrolling at Tufts are her four-year Marblehead Dollars for Scholars and the Tufts Neubauer Scholarship. “The combination of these two scholarships specifically gave me the chance to go to Tufts and get the best study experience I could have, and I’m so glad I did.”
Livermore said over the past four years it has been very encouraging to know that the city where she began her education and degree in physics helped cover the cost of her college graduation through her scholarship.
She notes that Marblehead is a wealthy town and believes that when townspeople can make a donation that affects a young person’s life, it is an effective practice. Through donations, “people have the power to make a difference so that high school students can go to college and the colleges they want to go to,” Livermore said.
She is grateful that she can graduate without the sizable debt that many college students accumulate during their undergraduate years. This is one factor that enables Livermore to get straight to graduate school.
Marblehead Dollars for Scholars President Karen Pierce believes the philanthropic spirit is alive in the city as local citizens have made meaningful contributions to the charity for 34 years. “We are fortunate enough to live in a city where we work for the good of all,” says Pierce. “We are delighted to have supported Samantha and all of our scholarship holders and wish them every success in their career after graduation.”