My Rollins Gateway: Seismic Scholar
March 24, 2020
By Elsa Wenzel
Armed with rigorous lab work, extensive research experience, and five prestigious scholarships, Lauren Neldner ’20 is ready to make the world a safer place.
Lauren Neldner ’20 became fascinated with earthquakes after experiencing tremors as a child in Southern California. When she started high school in Florida, she began studying these seismic shifts for state science fairs under the tutelage of Sarah Evans ’06, who performed research under physics professor Thomas Moore as an undergrad and now runs a STEM retention program at a major research university. Neldner’s relationship with Evans set in motion her academic career at Rollins and started her on a path to pursuing her life’s passion.
“[Sarah Evans] introduced me to Dr. Moore while I was in high school, and I continued coming back to campus for tours,” says the physics major. “I loved the personalized interactions I saw and the research experience I would be able to get. This made me certain that I wanted to come to Rollins.”
After her very first semester, Neldner began conducting musical acoustics research alongside Moore through Rollins’ Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program. By the end of her first summer, she had already presented at professional conferences and published a research paper. This early research experience helped earn her a spot in the prestigious IRIS Internship Program, a paid seismology research program funded by the National Science Foundation, which led her to win a 2019 Goldwater Scholarship, the preeminent undergraduate award in the fields of mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences.
From learning through fieldwork to developing the persistence it takes to do real-world research, explore some of the pivotal waypoints on Neldner’s personalized pathway through Rollins.
From day one, the exacting standards and ever-present encouragement of physics professor Thomas Moore have been two of Neldner’s closest companions.
“I’ve seen Dr. Moore as the ideal research mentor since I was in high school. His passion for engaging undergrads in professional research is so inspiring. He has taught me so much about troubleshooting and has helped me become an effective presenter and writer, never failing to remind me that when I’m present, I’m the expert in the room on the subject matter and not to let anyone convince me otherwise.”
Liberal Arts in Action
Skills like analysis, problem solving, and critical thinking—which Neldner has developed in spades at Rollins—prepared her to enter the esteemed IRIS Internship program in seismology as one of the youngest participants. This experience included extensive fieldwork studying seismology and geology in New Mexico, followed by nine weeks at Brown University, where the physics major studied ambient noise caused by ocean waves to learn more about the Earth’s crust and upper mantle under Alaska.
“The professor I worked with at Brown was impressed with not only my research and technical skills but also with my communication and troubleshooting skills. She was surprised that I’d already developed so well in these areas with two more years of college still ahead.”
Neldner appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of her Rollins education, noting that her lab work in musical acoustics—which involved destroying a Steinway grand piano—inherently touched on science and the arts. She completed art projects in physics classes and took a course about music and physics.
“It’s where I thrive. It just makes the class more enjoyable and valuable when you’re pulling on a lot of different things.” Turns out these applications are essential in building connections among geophysics, seismology, and earthquake engineering.
Neldner’s path through Rollins Gateway—one steeped in the study of physics and guided by interdisciplinary exploration—has prepared her to step into the world poised to create positive change.
“From day one at Rollins, my professors cared about my interests, about me as a person. They implored me to reach out and explore, to get outside my comfort zone, where they knew I’d develop not just technical skills, but communication, problem-solving, and people skills. Because of this, I was able to present original research at five professional conferences, publish two papers, earn a paid internship experience, study art in London, serve as a peer mentor, and really become a leader both in my major and beyond.”