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Army veteran honored by National Science Foundation

| Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recognized 11 United States military veterans for their contributions to the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields in Washington D.C., on Nov. 5. United States Army veteran and Notre Dame physics graduate student Luis Morales and 10 others were honored with NSF-funded Graduate Research Fellowships.

“The ceremony in Washington was a Veteran’s Day event,” Morales said. “The NSF has never done anything like this before. They honored the veterans while also showing how they had contributed to—and made the transition from—the military to the STEM fields.”

Morales said his trip to D.C. included a tour of the NSF headquarters and a poster session to present and discuss his personal research. The NSF expressed interest in helping veterans overcome any obstacles that may prevent them from pursuing a civilian career in STEM, Morales said.

“Throughout the day, we [talked] about the relationship between veterans and the sciences,” he said. “We’re not traditional students. Many of us start schooling with families. It can be a struggle to manage this financially and time wise.”

Morales said that he and the other NSF Fellows honored in D.C. were asked what could be done for veterans to help with the transition from the military to undergraduate or graduate education.

“I wasn’t in a science field when I was in the military,” Morales said. “I just had this drive to do it. I followed my heart. I took all the opportunities that were given to me.”

According to a press release from the College of Science, “the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship program provides three years of support for the graduate education of students who have demonstrated the potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research.”

After more than five years of service in the Army, Morales moved to Elkhart, Indiana to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics and applied mathematics at Indiana University – South Bend in 2011. There, Morales collaborated with a group in the Nuclear Science Lab at Notre Dame to design a new detection system for the St. GEORGE Recoil Separator (Strong Gradient Electro-magnet Online Recoil separator for capture Gamma ray Experiments).

“During my time as an undergrad, I spent about three summers on the St. GEORGE,” Morales said. “We ended up simulating and designing a new detection system, constructing this system and testing it to make sure it worked properly.”

Morales said the coming stages of his research will work with the St. GEORGE accelerator to test chemical reactions and elements in stars.

“We want to study the sun,” Morales said. “This system will help us study particular reactions in the sun. Right now, I’m working on putting all of the different parts of the system together and making sure they work right.”

Morales said the financial support the NSF offers helps veterans integrate in civilian life on many levels.

“The event in Washington was a pleasant experience overall,” Morales said. “It made me happy to see the NSF trying to reach out to veterans and relate to our struggles. It made me feel like they were genuinely interested in helping future veterans with interests in science pursue them.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, The Observer's former Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's an ex-Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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