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ASU Dean’s Medalist aims to answer world’s biggest questions as theoretical physicist


Max Pezzelle will graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in physics and a minor in mathematics.. Photo by: Meghan Finnerty

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April 27, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Even back in elementary school, Max Pezzelle has always been intrigued by the world's unknowns. 

How does gravity work? What are black holes? Those were the questions he was constantly asking himself.

That curiosity and pursuit of answering those questions led him to Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor's degree in physics from the Department of Physics and a minor in mathematics.

Pezzelle, a Barrett, The Honors College student, spent his time in college researching the double copy theory, which explores the relationships between gauge theories and gravity. For his research, he received the Department of Physics Research Award. 

Outside the classroom, he regularly attended cosmology seminars and was a member of the ASU Society of Physics Students and Cosmology Initiative Journal Club and Seminar.

“My time at ASU has definitely increased my confidence and spirit to pursue physics. The more you learn, the more questions you have, and the experiences I’ve had while at ASU helped in that area,” Pezzelle said.

At The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ convocation in May, he will be honored as the Department of Physics Spring 2023 Dean’s Medalist. He spoke to us about his academic journey.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I love learning about the natural world and the deeper questions that you ask. There’s a picture of me holding up this notebook where I did a project on black holes before middle school. That is how long I have been interested in the field.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A:  It’s close to home, and I love Arizona so that was a huge factor. Outside of that, various opportunities were available in physics and space exploration. You don’t get those opportunities everywhere. 

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

A:  I have two that stick out to me; first was Damien Easson, who was helpful when I was working on my thesis. I was tackling a topic that he was working on, and he was not only helpful with that but also beneficial in showing me the day-to-day life of being a physicist. Another was a graduate student, Tucker Manton, who helped with my thesis.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A:  I would tell someone to take advantage of all the opportunities, whether that is joining clubs that interest you, attending lectures or conferences or connecting with professors. 

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

A:  Most of the time someone found me in the Society of Physics Students room in the physical sciences building. I also spent time outside the Memorial Union.

Q:  What are your plans after graduation?

A:  I will be furthering my education at another university. From there, I want to move on to pursue a postdoctoral study and eventually become a professor in theoretical physics.

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

A:  I would form a group focused on answering the fundamental questions in physics that we do not know yet. 

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