Spin Doctor

Michael Jokubaitis wraps up National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship.

Michael Jokubaitis C’10 had a bit of an edge when he arrived at Brown University to begin graduate study in physics. Because of his extensive undergraduate research experience, he ended up teaching fellow first-year graduate students. “A lot of people coming into graduate school have the theoretical background, but not the practical hands-on laboratory experience. I was teaching them how to run experiments,” he says.

His research experience at Drew—plus the fact that he managed to teach and do research at Brown, on top of the regular physics curriculum—pushed his application for a 2011 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship to the top of a huge pile. This spring Jokubaitis was awarded one of the prestigious three-year fellowships, covering tuition plus a yearly stipend of around $31,000. “It’s a great honor. The fellowship gives you a lot of latitude and intellectual freedom.”

He’s always thrived in an environment that rewarded inquiry. His first research opportunity at Drew came his freshman year. He found a perfect mentor in Professor Bob Fenstermacher. He learned what it means to be a scientist. “Research in science is not like taking a test. What Drew taught me was that when you try to answer one question, you get dozens more in the process. It keeps blooming. You get an entire, unexplored horizon from just one question,” he says.

Getting a doctorate in physics typically takes five to seven years. Jokubaitis shopped around this year for a research group at Brown, looking for one whose work may suggest his Ph.D. thesis. He plans to specialize in spintronics research, which studies how the “spins” of electrons can power faster computers and other devices. Just thinking about the discoveries ahead thrills him.

“Research is a very human endeavor, like music,” says Jokubaitis, who has been studying piano since he was five. “If you put enough passion into it, enough effort, the rewards are great. There’s also risk. It takes gut and fortitude. You could be toiling away at something that turns out to be a dead end. But being in the lab at 2:30, 3:30, 4:30 in the morning because you can’t sleep, waiting for data to come back, tweaking things, running models—to be there, when something neat happens, is an amazing feeling.”—Mary Jo Patterson

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