Hometown: Happy Valley, Oregon

High School: La Salle Catholic College Preparatory

Major: Physics and Computer and Information Science

Website: jacobbieker.com

Before coming to the University of Oregon as a Stamps Scholar, Jacob participated in lacrosse, FIRST Robotics Club, and the German American Partnership Exchange Program. He designed an Android application as part of his capstone project through the STEM LaSallian Scholar Program. While in high school, Jacob tutored children at a local elementary school, served as an outdoor school counselor, and worked on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana on projects in and out of an elementary school classroom. He was part of the Harvard Model Congress and is a self-taught web developer.


What was your biggest academic accomplishment before coming to the UO? Being named the salutatorian for my class. 

What is something people might be surprised to learn about you? I built a Van De Graaff generator in the sixth grade.

What is the UO doing well? The UO gives undergraduates great access to the faculty. I have been able to meet with professors and faculty members very easily, and those meetings have given rise to a lot of amazing opportunities that I wouldn't have been able to be a part of if it wasn't so simple. It's really cool being able to actually do something that has an effect on the world besides just classroom assignments. Being able to push some area of research forward, even if it's just a little bit. I'm getting to actually affect the world in some way. 

What are you most proud of accomplishing since you started at the UO? I am really proud that some research that I was involved in was presented at the International Astronomical Union meeting last summer, and now we are writing a paper on that same research. Also the UO has a robotic telescope in Bend. I joined the team in December and they gave me a project to build software to help run part of it. So I built it. It controls the dome of the telescope remotely from Eugene. It was really cool the first time we tested it, I could see the dome 130 miles away opening and closing based off my program. Seeing it actually work was really a cool moment.

What are some things you’ve been doing outside of the classroom since you’ve been at UO? Hanging out with friends, photography, hiking, programming, lacrosse, designing and building things, swimming, biking, soccer, and camping. I have gone on some Outdoor Program trips, such as one to Sparks Lake cross-country skiing and plan on doing more of those.

Describe a mentor or professor who has positively impacted your experience at UO. Dr. Scott Fisher, the physics advisor, has had an immensely positive impact on my experience so far. He was the first professor who I started working with, developing software for the UO's Pine Mountain Observatory, and now I am working with him, other students, and an astronomer at the Gemini telescopes studying galaxy evolution. We are working on getting the first paper published with our results. He has been very helpful in mentoring me as I go through trying out research and setting myself up for future success.

Describe a couple of your favorite classes you've taken at UO. The SCUBA class was a lot of fun. I just completed it, and it allowed me to get certified for SCUBA diving. We went up to Hoodsport in Washington and dove for two days, which was a blast. One of my favorite, more academic, classes was Vera Keller's "Sources of Self ," which I took freshman year for my Honors history sequence. It was really cool seeing how autobiography developed over time and in different cultures. It was cool because it was something completely different from what I would normally do, I really love Professor Keller. It was a fun class. I also really liked the Clark Honors Introductory Program (CHIP) on science fiction. I always liked science fiction, and it was fun being around people who also liked it.

Are you doing any undergraduate research? Yes! I am working as part of a group with an astronomer at the Gemini telescopes, analyzing data from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as Gemini, to study the differences in how cluster and field galaxies evolve. I am also working with another group running simulations on the UO's supercomputer simulating supernovae and accretion disks. We are investigating how planets might form from disks around stars. I am also working on analyzing luminosity data from the ATLAS experiment at CERN, part of the Large Hadron Collider. Last summer, I worked at the Oregon Health and Science University, working on computational biology research on pancreatic cancer and T-cell receptor sequences.

How does your research fit with the broader research goals of your department? My astronomy research fits into the research goals of the Physics department as my research is investigating astrophysical phenomena, discovering more of how the universe works around us. The luminosity research helps with the ongoing collaboration between members of the Physics department and the ATLAS experiment.

Can you tell me about some of the newest results from your research, and why you are excited about them? Most of the research is in progress, but with the work with the Gemini astronomer, we are discovering how field galaxies tend to evolve more slowly than those in clusters. This is exciting because there is not much research into the differences in how cluster and field galaxies evolve, so any results are pretty exciting.

Any upcoming research projects worth mentioning? Starting in spring 2016, I am working with a computer science group to use natural language processing to analyze the effectiveness of National Science Foundation-funded software in scientific articles and disciplines.

Do you see your work ultimately leading to something tangible, or is it more in the category of basic research? Most of my research is in the category of basic research. The research that seems most likely to produce something tangible would be with the natural language processing, where the data we get from that could help the NSF, and other scientific bodies, determine what types of software, or specific software packages, return the most utility for the investment. Basic research is incredibly important, as understanding the universe better for its own sake should be justification enough to do research. Also, there is no knowing what might come out of insights that resulted from basic research.

What are you hoping to do with your major, both while you work toward graduation and after? Since fifth grade, I've wanted to be an astrophysicist or quantum physicist. Now I'm more leaning toward astrophysics. In my junior year, I started dabbling in programming. In physics you have to be able to build programs to analyze data, so that's why I'm also a computer science major. I want to do computational astrophysics after going to grad school. Astrophysics is the physics of stars and galaxies and the universe at large. So I would be like modeling galaxies colliding or stars exploding. After graduation, I would like to do research as a computational physicist, either designing and running simulations of astrophysical phenomena, or in some similar capacity.

I think it would be fun to work at SpaceX or NASA. My mom used to work at NASA, so it would be cool to do that. My mom graduated from the CHH with a degree in physics. Her dad, my grandpa, also worked on biophysics at NASA. It would be kind of cool to be the third generation physicist to work for NASA in my family. Google or Intel would be cool places to work too.