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Alumna Sylvia Biscoveanu awarded Soros Fellowship

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18 April 2018

Sylvia BiscoveanuEberly College of Science and Schreyer Scholar alumna Andrea Sylvia Biscoveanu received one of 30 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans and has been awarded $90,000 for graduate school studies.

The 2018 Soros Fellows, chosen from a pool of 1,766 applicants, are all the children of immigrants, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, green card holders, or naturalized citizens.

“Especially in today’s environment, it’s so important that the Soros Foundation seeks to highlight the achievements and positive impacts of immigrants and children of immigrants, and I’m honored to be a part of this year’s class of fellows,” Biscoveanu said. “My Romanian heritage has played a big role in shaping my outlook as a scientist and as a new American, and it’s amazing to be recognized for my achievements not in spite of my background but because of it.”

Biscoveanu’s parents, Mihaela and Adrian Biscoveanu, immigrated to the United States following the Romanian Revolution of 1989 in order to pursue increased freedoms and opportunities for themselves and their family.

“They taught me the value of determination and hard work, so obtaining a Ph.D. in gravitational wave astrophysics will be a way to honor their sacrifice,” Biscoveanu said.

Biscoveanu graduated from Penn State summa cum laude with degrees in physics and Spanish, with minors in mathematics and violin performance, in May 2017. Her undergraduate research focused on searching for the sources of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays using data from the Pierre Auger Observatory and on the search for a stochastic gravitational wave background using data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). She will begin work toward a doctorate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall.

“The goal of our fellowship is to honor the profound ways that immigrants and children of immigrants are contributing to the United States,” said Soros Fellowship director Craig Harwood. “When our interviewers met with Sylvia, we were thoroughly impressed by her research as an undergraduate in astrophysics. She is profoundly gifted and I think that comes from, in part, being the child of immigrants and having that drive to contribute.”

A recipient of a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, an Astronaut Scholarship and, most recently, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Biscoveanu is currently conducting research on constraining the jet properties of gamma-ray bursts using coincident gravitational wave and electromagnetic detections as a Fulbright Postgraduate Fellow at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

She hopes to conduct postdoctoral research within the LIGO collaboration before starting a tenure track faculty position at a university.

“I hope to use my platform as an educator to inspire the next generation of scientists, and to demonstrate particularly to female students early in their physics education that they too can succeed in this male-dominated field,” she said. “I had the privilege to work with professors at Penn State like Miguel Mostafá and Chad Hanna that inspired me to pursue astrophysics research just by talking about their work during lectures, and I hope to be as positive a role model for my future students as they were for me.”

Founded by Hungarian immigrants, Daisy M. Soros and her late husband Paul Soros, The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans program honors continuing generations of immigrant contributions to the United States. Past fellows include former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy; Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist of artificial intelligence and machine learning at GoogleCloud; Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib of Washington; composer Paola Prestini; and award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang.

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