'Be persistent, be passionate, and be true'

Ariel Baksh

Cherry Hill, N.J.

What was your favorite class and why?

Ariel standing in front of a sunset

My favorite class changes every semester as I take more classes within my major. However, my favorite course may change my entire career trajectory: PHYS 4444: Particle Physics. Professor Yuval Grossman is one of the best professors in the Department of Physics, and his love for the subject translates well into his lecture style. Through a class I previously took with him, PHYS 3317: Applications of Quantum Mechanics, I felt that the underlying physical intuition it takes to be a true physics student was finally within my grasp. Professor Grossman described the Particle Physics course as a baby's introduction to quantum field theory, which is, in my eyes, the most beautiful theory in modern-day physics. Throughout my whole life, I have been waiting for physics to make sense to me, and it is through this course that I feel like I have finally reached that point. When I was younger, one of the first physics books that I read was about particle physics, so it is no small thing to say I have been waiting for at least ten years to take Particle. However, Professor Grossman's teaching and his way of delivering this seemingly incomprehensible thing in a way that simplifies it and makes it make sense that makes me fall in love with the subject even more. To me, the theories of physics are the most beautiful things in the world, and to have them laid out on a chalkboard and be able to comprehend the thing I have been chasing my entire life leads to a feeling that I cannot even begin to put into words.

What is your main extracurricular activity, and why is it important to you?

I have had a few extracurricular activities that I deem important to me, namely being a member of the Cornell Astronomical Society and the Society of Physics Students. I have had the privilege to hold e-board positions for both clubs as well, being the treasurer of the Cornell Astronomical Society for the duration of my sophomore year, and the treasurer, then the president, of the Society of Physics Students during my freshman, sophomore and junior years. Through these two organizations, I learned invaluable leadership skills and met some of my closest friends. Both clubs are essential to me in different ways, but it is through being the president of the Society of Physics Students that I became closer with the Department of Physics. Through this position, I got to know the current director of undergraduate studies, Professor Tomás Arias, who has provided invaluable support to me as a physics major. I owe my extracurricular activities gratitude for teaching me critical skills and being the mediums through which I got to know the people who made my time at Cornell invaluable.

What have you accomplished as a Cornell student that you are most proud of?

While at Cornell, I had the privilege of being part of various research groups. Since my sophomore summer, I have been a member of Professor Nicholas Battaglia's research group, in the field of cosmology. Through his support, and the support of the McNair Scholars Program, which I am a member of, I could attend the American Astronomical Society's research conference during my junior year, and present my then-current work. Throughout my time at Cornell, this has been one of my proudest achievements, and the fact that I could present my research at a national conference dedicated to astronomy is still something I view as unbelievable. As a freshman, I had aspirations to do research, but did not think I could do anything substantial. However, as a junior, being in Seattle for AAS was the most exciting and nerve-wracking experience of my life. Looking back, I view this as my most outstanding achievement, and the highlight of my research career as an undergraduate.

Ariel writing equations on a black board

If you were to offer advice to an incoming first-year student, what would you say?

When asked this question, I often think back to myself as a first-year student and wonder what I would say to that starry-eyed girl who had no clue what the next four years would bring. As the person on the other end of said four years, I do not think there is anything else to say but this: be persistent, be passionate and be true. Through persistence, anything is achievable. Through my persistent pursuit of various things during my time at Cornell, I could achieve as much as I did. However, persistence does not come without passion, since the desire to do something must come from a place of affection or devotion. I have always been passionate about physics, and through this passion, I was able to give meaning to my learning and hold true to myself, my goals, and my dreams.


Every year, our faculty nominate graduating Arts & Sciences students to be featured as part of our Extraordinary Journeys series. Read more about the Class of 2024.

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Ariel Baksh