Double-Major a UA Degree Candidate at 20
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Two years ago this month, Christopher Culbert was walking across a stage at Vestavia Hills in Birmingham to pick up his high school diploma. Twenty-four months later, he’s poised to pick up another sheepskin, this one of the college variety, having completed requirements to earn his bachelor’s degree, while double-majoring in math and physics at The University of Alabama.
While keeping a blistering academic pace, Culbert has, along the way, presented his research results at what’s believed to be the largest academic physics meeting ever held, used theoretical calculations to predict properties of certain not-yet-perfected materials, and then set out, with others in UA’s MINT laboratories, to develop those materials.
“Sometimes I wonder where Chris finds the time and energy to do what he has done,” said Dr. William Butler, director of UA’s Center for Materials for Information Technology, known as MINT.
So, how did Culbert compress four years worth of classes into two, while carrying such an intense double-major, racking up hours of outside class research, and compiling a 3.9 Grade Point Average along the way? To hear the 20-year-old Calhoun, Ga. native tell it, it was no big deal.
“There were some times when it got a little hectic, but, generally, it was not that bad,” Culbert said of his load. “It was pretty well balanced.”
Culbert transferred in 19 hours from Advancement Placement credits he earned in high school, and he took either 20 or 21 semester hours all but one semester since he’s been on campus. He slacked off last summer, taking only 17. Twelve hours is the minimum load a student can take and still be considered full-time. Ask Culbert about his decision to major in math and physics, and you get a glimpse of his passion for the subjects.
“Math is aesthetically pleasing to me,” Culbert said. “I find it, honestly, beautiful.” Studying physics is to learn “how the universe began and why it’s here.”
He chose UA his senior year at Vestavia after winning a scholarship based on his performance in the University’s annual high school physics contest. Physics is a field that’s drawing an increased amount of interest, around the nation and at UA.
According to a researcher with the American Institute of Physics, more than 30 percent of high school seniors have taken physics classes, more than ever before. The number of UA students declaring physics as their major has also increased, even beyond what could be attributed to UA’s overall enrollment increases. Between 2001-2004, 18 UA students, on average, were majoring in physics. In 2005, 33 students did so, and in this latest academic year, UA reports 40 physics majors.
Culbert plans to enter graduate school at UA in the fall. But first, there’s more research ahead of him this summer. He’ll be working with the University’s MINT center, doing both theoretical and experimental work to try and develop so-called half-metals for use in devices called spin valves. These are good candidates for the next generation of hard drives.
“Computers are getting smaller and faster, so it’s helpful to have something that keeps up with the pace. Theoretically, we have a lot of choices that should be perfect, but when we try to make them, we’re not getting as good results as we would like.”
Culbert understands the different between theoretical and actual results. After all, theoretically, it takes four years to earn a college degree.
The departments of math and physics and astronomy are parts of the College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the “USA Today” Academic All American Teams.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.
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SOURCE: Dr. William Butler, 205/348-2665, firstname.lastname@example.org
Christopher Culbert, 205/478-1096, email@example.com