Student Spotlight: Jack Lyons

| Thu, 12/14/23
Jack Lyons, a senior majoring in physics through the Department of Physics.
Jack Lyons, a senior majoring in physics through the Department of Physics. Photo by the Office of National Fellowships.

Jack Lyons is a senior majoring in physics through Florida State University’s Department of Physics in the College of Arts and Sciences and brass performance in the College of Music. He won the 2023 Günter Schwarz Memorial Scholarship from the Department of Physics and the 2023 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which is a prestigious award for college students intending to pursue careers in science, mathematics and engineering. This year, Lyons also placed third in the National Trumpet Competition’s solo division and in the top 15 at the International Trumpet Guild’s solo competition. Additionally, he conducts interdisciplinary physics research with associate professor of physics Hanwei Gao’s lab, also known as the GAO Group, for this Honors in the Major thesis on light-emitting materials and serves on the College of Music’s Board of Advisers. Lyons aspires to erase stereotypes that suggest music and science are mutually exclusive disciplines.

What year are you in school, and when do you expect to graduate?

I am a senior and will be graduating in Spring 2024.

Tell us a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to FSU.

I am from Jacksonville, Florida, and was originally attracted to FSU’s College of Music per the advice of my high school band directors. In high school, my father would drive me to Tallahassee so I could take lessons from FSU professor of trumpet and Grammy Award-winner Christopher Moore. Once Moore invited me to attend his studio class and encouraged me to compete in the National Trumpet Competition, I was absolutely convinced to attend FSU.

What inspired you to pursue a double major in brass performance and physics?

I started playing the trumpet at a very young age, as my father was a high school band director. Trumpet became my passion when I won my first major concerto competition and soloed Enesco’s “Legend” with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra during high school.

When I first came to FSU, I was a full-fledged music major with an interest in higher mathematics and science. Rachel Ward, an undergraduate adviser in the College of Music, told me to challenge myself by pursuing something that I was scared of. Being a complete novice at physics, I signed up for an introductory course and haven’t looked back since!

What do you want the public to know about your studies? Why are your topics important?

I want to bring awareness to the overlap between music and physics. These disciplines complement each other well in terms of knowledge and creativity. I want to represent a student narrative that erases stereotypes so music and physics can be perceived holistically rather than two separate realms.

Tell me about your research with the GAO Group.

During Summer 2022, I headed a project to better understand the characteristics of perovskite, a mineral with potential uses spanning from fuel cells to computer memory storage. I studied incredibly thin layers of perovskite, or perovskite thin films, via fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy, or FTIR, which is a technique used to measure how much infrared radiation a material absorbs or emits, possibly helping us understand the material’s properties. I was able to show that perovskite can be characterized by FTIR to some extent. While it was inconclusive if the thin films were successfully unreactive, FTIR proved to be a necessary tool to study the thin films in comparison to nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

A typical week in the lab consists of multiple meetings with Professor Gao where we receive his guidance on experimentation and literature review. A lot of time is spent preparing samples for various experiments and completing classwork in between.

You have earned two notable scholarships — the 2023 Gunter Schwarz Memorial Scholarship and the 2023 Barry Goldwater Scholarship. What does earning these scholarships mean to you?

Both scholarships mean a lot to me as they reinforce my desire to pursue a research-oriented career in physics. The Günter Schwarz Memorial Scholarship is extremely special to me as Günter Schwarz was a semi-professional pianist in Germany before transitioning to physics. Evidently, I identify with this award on a very personal level given my unique trajectory through college. Additionally, the Goldwater Scholarship serves as a humble reminder to keep dreaming big because our potential is boundless.

What are some current goals or projects that you’re working on?

Currently, I am working towards completing my Honors in the Major thesis under Professor Gao’s supervision, researching light-emitting materials. Over the summer, I worked onsite in Broomfield, Colorado, for Quantinuum, a company that researches ion trap quantum computers. Ion trapping is one approach to developing a large-scale quantum computer, or a computer that uses the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information. Specifically, I am developing a numerical simulation that calculates the increase of energy, also known as excitation, associated with the transportation of multiple types of ions. During this experience, I had the opportunity to meet multiple world-class physicists who specialize in quantum technology.

What on-campus resources have helped you achieve success?

The biggest resource that has aided my success is the Office of National Fellowships. Assistant director of ONF Jesse Wieland guided me through the application process for the Goldwater Scholarship for an entire semester, and he helped me successfully highlight my achievements in my application.

Are there any faculty or staff who have helped or inspired you? Why/how so?

My biggest influences are professors Moore and Gao. Professor Moore has significantly contributed to my development as a trumpeter and musician, and Professor Gao taught me what it means to be an effective researcher and scholar.

Following your graduation, what are your plans? Even though you might miss FSU, what are you looking forward to once you graduate?

I plan to pursue a doctorate in atomic, molecular, and optical physics to prepare for a career in quantum computing, whether in academia or industry. I am looking forward to broadening my perspective in ion trap research. I also intend to keep music as one of the focal points of my life as I move on to pursue a career as a physicist.