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Meet Raven Witherspoon

Physics Class of '21

raven witherspoon

When did you decide you wanted to study physics?

When I was in high school, I participated in a summer program at NASA Langley and quickly realized how much I love space. I thought physics would be a good way to get a broad understanding of relevant concepts as well as the technical skills and research experience to secure a job after graduation.

When I got to VCU, I realized that physics lays the groundwork for nearly every other discipline. It's foundational to the experiences of daily life but it also extends beyond our senses into the unseen. Understanding physics will alter the way you interact with the world. It not only enhances your problem-solving abilities, it also opens the door to unlimited scientific possibilities.

“Understanding physics will alter the way you interact with the world. It not only enhances your problem-solving abilities; it also opens the door to unlimited scientific possibilities.”

Did you have a favorite class in your major?

My favorite class in my major was Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics. Thermodynamics is fascinating because it's one of the few disciplines within physics that people completely unfamiliar with physics can still easily relate. Other concepts, like general relativity and Maxwell's equations seem daunting, but almost everyone understands the basic probabilities and heat concepts required to grasp thermodynamics.

Can you tell us about your internship experience?

I recently completed an internship in nuclear health physics at Dominion Energy's Surry Nuclear Power Station. I learned about reactor theory and contributed to projects that minimized radiological risk. It opened my eyes to the diversity of options available to physics students and ignited my passion for nuclear physics. It also led me to conduct research in VCU's Department of Nuclear Engineering under the direction of Dr. Braden Goddard. Our published research provided recommendations to reduce the possibility of hostile parties developing nuclear weapons.

You’ve said that you would like to work in international conflict resolution someday. Why does that interest you? And why is something like that important in today's world?

One of my favorite concepts I've come across in my time as a physics major is Einstein's "illusion of separateness." Roughly translated, he asserted that the idea of some "other" as opposed to the "self" is a delusion that does more harm than good. Carl Sagan asserted something similar: "Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds ... To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

With this perspective, I think international conflict resolution is one aspect of social justice that seeks to reconcile people to one another. It means addressing harm, seeking common ground and laboring always with the belief that unity is more inherent to us than division.

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