When he was a boy, Lucas Viani '14 was like many others who dreamed of becoming an astronaut.
The North Hero, Vt., student may not be on the next space shuttle, but his interest in the stars never waned. Since arriving at Union, he has spent countless hours researching a galaxy's environment and its impact on star formation and galaxy evolution.
"We know how galaxies that are alone have evolved and how really dense galaxies interact," said the physics major. "But we don't really know much about how intermediate galaxies operate."
Viani's devotion to science has earned him a Goldwater Scholarship, the premiere undergraduate award for students pursuing careers in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering. Created in 1989, the scholarship honors the memory of U.S. Senator Barry M. Goldwater.
Viani is one of 271 sophomores and juniors selected from among 1,107 mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. He will receive $7,500 to cover tuition, fees, books, and room and board next year.
Viani has always been science-oriented. His first two summers at Union, Viani worked as a research assistant for Rebecca Koopmann '89, associate professor of physics and astronomy. This summer, he will work as a research assistant at UCLA.
"That's just one of the great things about Union," said Viani. "You can come in after your first year and stay through the summer doing research. If you went to a bigger school, you may not get that opportunity until you have more experience."
In addition to Koopmann, Viani credits professors Jonathan Marr and Michael Vineyard in the Physics Department with encouraging him to pursue the Goldwater.
He also is grateful for the help from Maggie Tongue, director of Union's Scholars Program and Post-Baccalaureate Fellowships. Viani had applied last year for the Goldwater but didn't win. Tongue helped him refine his application, which includes an essay.
"It was a really tough competition this year," said Tongue. "Lucas did a great job on his application again this year, and it paid off."
Viani tutors at the Physics Help Center and is vice president of the Society of Physics Students. He also participates in the ski and soccer clubs. He plans to attend graduate school to continue his research into galaxies.
"It's fascinating. What we have here is such a tiny part of the universe. It's cool to explore what else is out there."