Awards & Honors, Student Experience

Science Student Olivia Ross Wins Steck Award

Portrait of Olivia Ross

Olivia Ross, a recent graduate from UC Santa Cruz, has received the Steck Award for her project, “Searching for Primordial Black Holes.” The Steck Award is given once a year to one UC Santa Cruz undergraduate and their mentor, and recognizes the most outstanding research out of the fifteen Chancellor’s Awardees.

Ross’s project, which she worked on with faculty mentor Stefano Profumo, studies the possibility of detecting primordial black holes (PBHs) using pulsars.

“If a PBH were in orbit around a pulsar, the flashes of light from the pulsar would be periodically affected, allowing us to measure the PBHs’ mass and path of orbit,” Ross explained in her project abstract. “In order to determine what these signatures would look like, I have determined expressions for the capture rate, average lifetimes, and expected number of captured objects in binary systems.”

From transfer student to graduate student

Ross came to UC Santa Cruz as a transfer student in 2018 and quickly acclimated to the campus.

“I immediately felt right at home,” Ross says. “The physics major is intense, but doing it in the middle of a redwood forest made everything bearable. I’ve made some lifelong friends and I’ve had the honor of working with some truly incredible mentors. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”

Ross also found a home in academic research, which she was able to participate in as an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz.

“When I arrived in Santa Cruz, I knew nothing about research. In three short years I’ve published one paper and I have two more in the works,” Ross says.

Ross graduated Magna Cum Laude in summer 2020, and is headed to Cornell University’s Ph.D. program in astronomy in the fall. She will be studying large scale structure, which she describes as “the study of how and why matter is distributed throughout the universe.”

When asked what advice she has for incoming students, Ross answered that she would urge students to start research early.

“Find a professor whose work you think is interesting, email them, and ask if there’s anything you can help with. It can be intimidating, but it’s the best way to learn, make connections, and fill out your resume!”