Nat McConnell ('11) | Physics

nat mcconnell

Computational physics 
major from Spring, Texas

Nat McConnell has always loved science. In fact, he can't remember a time when he didn't like figuring out in a logical fashion how the world worked. He did math problems for a hobby, and when his family was sitting around the dinner table, his mom would quiz him over math facts for fun. So when it was time to pick a major, it's no great surprise that Nat picked physics - the branch of science that is basically applied math and deals with some of the complex forces on the planet.

"We're learning about the smallest things we know about," he said.

Academics and atmosphere

There are a number of colleges with good physics programs, but Nat picked ACU for a reason. He was impressed with the physics department's academic record and the research opportunities it provided. ACU also offered a good environment and an atmosphere where both students and faculty felt comfortable exploring their faith, he said. Nat has established relationships with his professors, found a church home and made good friends during the last two years.

One of his favorite things about his department is the chance to get to know his professors as people, not just impersonal faculty members. If he needs help, he can get it from any professor at almost any time. If he's in the mood for a couple of computer games with a seasoned player, one of his professors might be sitting at the opposite keyboard. These are teachers who realize the need for connection and fun in the lives of their students, and move to fulfill both those needs.

Nat is looking forward to research at a national lab this summer.  He's excited about getting the chance to experience the science he's been studying for two years.

Also, "it'll be a chance to get my name on some published papers," he said.

Nat's talents don't just lie within the realm of physics, though. He also enjoys working with computers - he's been tinkering with them for almost as long as he's loved science. In high school, he took programming classes and has carried his new hobby into college. 

"I like the logical-minded thinking," he said.

Technology coach

Logical thinking led him to a job at Team55, the university's computer services organization. Nat has worked on the team since fall 2008 and appreciates the technological experience it provides for him. He also enjoys the opportunity to use his talent to help others. However, he admits that some days are more frustrating than others, especially when callers can't seem to understand the concepts.

"Sometimes I'm surprised I have any hair left," he said, laughing.

Despite the ups and downs of being a physics student-cum-computer technician, Nat feels that what he's doing is important. He's not sure what's ahead after he graduates from ACU, but he's considering graduate school and a degree in physics, engineering, or computer programming. He'll have plenty of career options, including engineering, research, teaching, or even medical school.

Understanding the universe

At the end of the day, though, Nat summarizes his love of science - and its importance in today's world - fairly simply for a guy who can program a computer and explain a complex physics equation. It's all about acquiring knowledge, he says. And even if we don't know how to use that knowledge now, he's pretty sure it'll come in handy later.

"Understanding the universe is always a good thing," he said.

Learn more about attending ACU 

ACU Undergrads at National Labs
ACU's engineering and physics students help conduct nuclear physics research at national labs each summer. See their experiences at Fermilab and Brookhaven.
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