Made of the Right Material
October 01, 2007
“Physics has completely changed my perception of the world,” says Andrew Dittmore. “I’ve discovered that solutions to many real-world problems require more than compassion; they require critical thinking, clear communication, and mathematical literacy.”
Dittmore was recently awarded a prestigious National Defense and Science Engineering Graduate Fellowship, which rewards individuals with demonstrated ability and special aptitude for advanced science and engineering. He’s the first Lewis & Clark graduate to receive this honor, and one of 200 winners selected from 3,400 applicants. The program covers all tuition and fees for three years of graduate work, plus a stipend totaling $93,000.
Now at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Dittmore is working toward his Ph.D. in the school’s top-ranked materials science and engineering program.
At 16, Dittmore earned a GED and headed to Portland Community College for a year. He came to Lewis & Clark as a sophomore in 2001–just when it was time to declare a major. “I chose physics without really knowing what I was getting into,” he says. “It’s as inspiring as it is challenging.”
For the next three summers, he took advantage of opportunities offered through the John S. Rogers Science Research Program, gaining proficiency in theory, experimentation, and presentation. He also credits the hands-on setting of the College’s Natural Science Shop as an invaluable resource.
“I investigated the information structure of biological sequences in the math department, wrote computer programs to process experimental data in the biology department, and studied chaos theory in the physics department,” he says. His work culminated in an honors thesis titled “Ordered Switching between Chaotic Modes.”
Research opportunities like these, he says, gave him strong problem-solving skills that complemented other facets of his liberal arts education.
After graduating with honors in physics, he headed to Maui for six months, where he lived in a tent at the edge of a rain forest filled with geckos. Dittmore then returned to Lewis & Clark as a research assistant for Kellar Autumn, associate professor of biology, and tested nanostructured gecko adhesive material. He also taught first-year engineering at Portland Community College and an introductory physics lab at Lewis & Clark.
Dittmore’s multidisciplinary approach to his education is as creative and bold as his future goals: inventor, entrepreneur, and professor.
–by Pattie Pace