By: Don Mock email@example.com
As an incoming freshman at the University of Florida, Maria Viitaniemi was a chemical engineering major on a pre-health track. However, during an enriched Physics 1 class taught by Prof. Selman Hershfield, a conservation of angular momentum demonstration with a spinning bicycle wheel piqued her interest in physics. After talking with Hershfield and touring the department’s research laboratories, she began doing research in condensed matter, changed her major to physics, and recently headed off to the University of Washington to pursue a physics doctorate.
Maria made good use of her four years at UF. As a participant in the department’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, with Dr. Amlan Biswas as her advisor, she presented her work on “Colossal piezoresistance in phase-separated manganites” at the 2014 American Physical Society March meeting in Denver. As a member and secretary of the UF chapter of the Society of Physics Students (SPS), Maria enjoyed participating in a variety of physics outreach activities, such as a science night for Glen Springs Elementary. Some of her most interesting and eye-opening conversations were with professors during coffee-and-cookie time and with her peers during late-night Mechanics homework sessions.
Outside of physics, Maria is an avid dancer, specializing in the Argentine tango. Why the Argentine tango? “When I came to UF, I knew I wanted to dance and the Argentine Tango happened to be first on the list!” She ended up helping teach the tango and served as the group’s treasurer for two years. In addition to helping students learn to dance, she also helped advise and supervise 52 other young women as a resident assistant in UF’s Engineering Living and Learning Residence Hall. “It’s a lot of fun to help guide freshman coming in with their wide-eyed looks of fear and frantic questions about campus life.”
For graduate school, Maria chose the colder climes of Seattle – hoping her Finnish heritage will kick in – but she will fondly remember her times as an undergraduate at Florida. “The great thing about the department is that the professors and mentors really care about their students. It’s like being part of a family.” With her love of teaching, mentoring, and advising, Maria is likely to spread that familial atmosphere wherever she goes.