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Physics Dean’s Medalist to take a scientist’s approach to health care

Dakota King is graduating from the ASU Department of Physics with a Bachelor of Science in physics.

January 13, 2020

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Physics majors cultivate a habit of lifelong learning and a creative, determined approach to problem-solving, in addition to a foundation of knowledge and understanding.

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Medalist Dakota King is looking forward to building on this foundation to help improve health and lifestyle through research and medicine.

King graduated last month with a Bachelor of Science in physics, and also completed a pre-med program. We sat down with the department’s most recent alumni to ask him a little about how he got started, where he’s headed next, and the lessons he would pass on to current and future students.

Question: What accomplishment are you most proud of from your undergraduate studies?

Answer: Winning the Dean’s Medal for physics.

Q: What was your "aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study physics?

A: I’ve always been curious about the world around me, but after watching the show "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," I decided to read several popular physics books, which ultimately influenced me to major in physics.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, or that changed your perspective?

A: My study of quantum physics. When you really stop and think about how the world works at its smallest scales, it gives you a new perspective on the world around you and reveals how interesting the universe is. I think it is amazing that humans have been able to investigate nature at this deep of a level; it will be interesting to see what we learn in the future.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is a successful and expanding research university. It provides ample research opportunities and has a faculty that is more than willing to work with students of all levels. I feel that ASU is a place where anything is possible — you truly can learn and grow in any field that you wish. Luckily, I am an Arizona native, so the decision to come to ASU was easy.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: It would have to be the professor that I worked with for over two years: Professor David Meltzer. Dr. Meltzer is a theoretical physicist who decided to dedicate his research to physics education; he is extremely passionate about his work and is always more than happy to provide guidance when it comes to physics — or anything. He taught me how to present research, gave me advice on going to graduate school, and reminded me to take my time exploring many areas of physics so that I may find an area I am most passionate about. These are just a few examples; I feel very fortunate to have had Dr. Meltzer as a mentor.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: I think one of the most important pieces of advice is that you must believe in yourself. Sometimes your courseload will feel overwhelmingly difficult, but you must remind yourself that you can learn anything if you want it bad enough and work hard enough. Through this hard work, you will learn how to learn more efficiently, and your road will become a bit easier. And for the physics student specifically: Solve and master as many physics problems as you physically can – I feel this is the best way to learn the theory.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends, or just thinking about life?

A: In general, PSF. It is where many of my classes were held. Classmates and I would always find an empty room or go to the Physics’ Student Success Center to study.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In addition to being a physics major, I have completed the pre-medical curriculum. Becoming a doctor is something that has always interested me – I love the thought of helping people who are in pain or battling disease. I also love physics and the thought of being a physicist. The nice thing about this is that physics has many applications in medicine, including imaging, radiation and drug design, to name a few. So, my plan is to become a physician-scientist. I am going to spend the upcoming year applying to MD-PhD programs with a PhD in physics or biophysics. It’s about an eight-year program and a long haul, but I want to be in a position where I can apply my research directly to helping patients. This is my dream career.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: According to the World Health Organization, noncommunicable diseases are known to be the leading cause of death in the world. These are diseases that are nontransmissible directly from person to person; examples include heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Interestingly, many of the factors that drive these diseases are controllable. Factors like physical inactivity, tobacco use and unhealthy diets are all factors that we may be able to influence through education and policy. Therefore, if someone gave me $40 million, I would put it towards educating higher risk populations so that they may have a better understanding of how their lifestyle plays an important role in their health. This would hopefully increase the lifespan and well-being of individuals that decided to act based on the knowledge provided.  

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