Astrophysics PhD student credits others for influential support

May 11, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Ed Buie II has always had a passion for math and physics, and this interest was fostered at a young age when his dad gave him a copy of Steven Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”  Close up image of PhD graduate Ed Buie II wearing a ball cap, smiles in front of a desert landscape. Ed Buie II Download Full Image

This spring, Buie will graduate with a PhD in astrophysics from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.

As an undergraduate, the Michigan native attended Michigan State University, originally as an accounting major, but soon discovered this wasn’t the path for him. In his second year at MSU, he changed his major to astrophysics. On the recommendation of his undergraduate adviser, Buie applied to ASU for graduate school. 

“I had no intention to live in a desert, but that's where I ended up,” said Buie. “It’s funny how life works out.” 

Buie was awarded a five-year NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for his research. To other students still in school, he recommends they “take advantage of the resources available to you and learn as many skill sets as you can.”

During his time at ASU, Buie worked with Professor Evan Scannapieco on investigating the role of turbulence in galactic halo simulations using the MAIHEM (Models of Agitated and Illuminated Hindering and Emitting Media) code, which tracks ionizations, recombinations and ion-by-ion radiative cooling for many astrophysically relevant elements.

“Ed is a dedicated and thoughtful astrophysicist who continuously works to improve access and excellence in science. He is wonderful to work with, and he approaches his research work by setting his goals high and maintaining the strong focus and willingness to develop the skills he needs to achieve them,” said Scannapieco, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). “He’s also a natural leader who has helped establish several new initiatives to make our school more inclusive and equitable. It is no overstatement to say that his presence in SESE has improved all of our lives.” 

Buie’s role to support and influence others will continue well beyond graduation. This summer he will drive across the country to New York, where he will begin a faculty position at Vassar College supporting students in their journey of learning. 

“Ed and his career are off to a fantastic start,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration Professor Hilairy Hartnett. “He’s an incredible advocate for equity and inclusion in STEM and for better science communication. I’m super excited to hear about all the innovative teaching and research in his new role at Vassar.”

Buie shared a few thoughts about his time at ASU.

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

Answer: This is hard because I learned so much from many professors. I can name a few: Hilairy Hartnett, Christy Till, Evan Scannapieco, Chris Groppi, Kimberly Scott, Jnaneshwar Das and Danny Jacobs.

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

A: I didn't learn this at ASU, but during my time here: People should be focused on figuring out the role that they want to fill in the world. Ask yourself, is there something that currently exists that you want to add to, or create? I realized early on, I am most fulfilled by supporting others, so I do things that align with that support role. If you know what role you'd like to fill in the world, things get easier and seem to fall into place.

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

A: I think I would use this to start a martial arts fund to pay for kids to practice a martial art in their nearby area (and support travel) whether that be karate, jiu jitsu, taekwondo or any other kind of dojo. Having practiced martial arts for a bit over two years now, the right dojo will teach you many lessons that are applicable in the outside world that would ultimately make the world a better place, in my opinion. These lessons include patience, diligence, perseverance, respect and kindness.

Q: Any influences from past teachers, friends, family? 

A: I've been lucky enough to have learned something valuable from everyone I've met. Maybe the biggest influence was my senior thesis adviser telling me to be a sponge in graduate school, which has enabled me to be influenced by everyone. This also includes the bad influences, which taught me what things not to do and choices to not make.

Q: Did you face any challenges to finish your degree with a pandemic? 

A: Not challenges with my degree, but personal things outside of school that ultimately led to better outcomes than I could've imagined. It's important to reflect and move forward with those learned lessons.

Q: Goals for the future?  

A: I want to keep supporting others in any way that I can. I want to help transform people's lives, communities and cities. The ultimate goal for me is to add as much good to the world as I can during my lifetime. 

Catherine Shappell

Digital communications specialist, School of Earth and Space Exploration


John Byrd receives Department of Physics Dean's Medal

May 11, 2022

Arizona State University's Department of Physics has selected John Byrd, an undergraduate studying physics with a minor in mathematics, as this year's Dean's Medalist. After originally dropping out of high school with a 1.3 GPA, Byrd later decided to take community college classes and transfer to ASU.

Byrd initially started at ASU in biomedical engineering but decided to transition into physics. Portrait of ASU student John Byrd. John Byrd, Dean's Medal recipient. Download Full Image

“I woke up one day and I was like, ‘Ugh, I don't want to go to any of my classes today,'" he said. "I stopped. I had like, this paradigm shift moment where I was like, ‘OK, but what are my classes today?’ And they were all of my biomedical engineering classes. I guess I was just really frustrated in engineering, with (being) so focused on just like, turning something into a product, like making the thing and not really stopping to consider the intricacies of how it works, and that drew me to physics."

Byrd said receiving the Dean’s Medal hasn’t fully sunk in yet, but is honored to be the recipient.

“It's sort of just kind of like a confirmation that I'm in the right place, that I'm doing the right things and that I can be successful. That's always kind of been a mental battle for me. I mean, coming from, you know, literally dropping out of high school with like a 1.3 GPA or something like that, to getting a Dean's Metal is a pretty big shift,” Byrd said.

Byrd also feels this award helps to battle his imposter syndrome.

“Sometimes I look around at my peers and am like, ‘Oh my God, you guys are just brilliant, like I need to get on that wavelength,'” Byrd said. “It helps battle the imposter syndrome a little bit, because it means that the people around me that I respect and admire so much actually think I belong here, which is very reassuring.”

Byrd’s biggest piece of advice to students is to reach out to professors whose research sounds interesting and figure out what you enjoy.

“If you're not sure what type of research you want to do, it doesn't matter," he said. "If you're not sure exactly what type of research the professor does, reach out and express that you're interested in it. Because the best thing to figure out what you want to do, both in school and in life, is to just to do things, and then figure out what you don't enjoy doing. It's so much easier to narrow down what you don't enjoy than it is to try and magically pull your perfect career trajectory out of a hat. You have to just do stuff, because the more stuff you do, the better knowledge you have of where you want to go.”

Kiersten Moss

Marketing Assistant, Department of Physics