Augenbraun awarded for physics research

Benjamin Augenbraun, son of Wiltonians Sara and Chuck Augenbraun, received the LeRoy Apker Award from the American Physical Society, making him the fifth Williams College alumnus in recent years to be awarded the nation’s highest honor for undergraduate physics research.

The Apker Award is presented to two undergraduates each year — one from a Ph.D.-granting institution and the other from a non-Ph.D.-granting institution. As one of this year’s winners, Benjamin will receive a $5,000 prize, and the same amount will be awarded to William College’s physics department.

Benjamin received the award for his thesis on experimental atomic physics using laser spectroscopy to study complicated, heavy atoms like indium and thallium. He specifically researched the Stark shift, a phenomenon whereby atoms — indium, in this case — deform in large electric fields. The Stark shift can be measured by observing how the atom’s light absorption of precise colors changes when the electric field is turned on and off.

“Ultimately, this is interesting because theoretical physicists can independently — and from first principles — predict what we should measure, and comparing our measurement to their predictions is a good way to test whether or not their mathematical models are accurate,” said Augenbraun, who also received the Goldwater Scholarship in 2014 for his achievements in physics.

He graduated summa cum laude from Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., earlier this year with a bachelor’s degree in physics.

He completed his award-winning research in the lab of Williams College physics professor Protik Majumder.

Majumder said Augenbraun spent two years working in the college’s atomic physics laboratory, “growing from an enthusiastic participant to a true research partner who, by the end of his Williams career, was not only running the complicated experiment entirely by himself, but charting the direction for the future of the project.”

He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at Harvard University in Boston, where he is part of a research group studying cold molecules.

Augenbraun said once he finishes his Ph.D., he hopes to remain in academia in a position where he can balance research and teaching.

To learn more about the LeRoy Apker Award, visit: