Feature Stories

NJIT Student Wins a Goldwater Scholarship

Mohammad Naqvi, Goldwater Scholar

An NJIT student has won a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the nation's most prestigious prizes, for researching the sun’s effects on global warming. Mohammad Naqvi competed against 1,000 students from colleges across the nation -- including Harvard, MIT and Stanford -- to win the scholarship.

 He was one of 317 students picked for the $15,000 award, given yearly to the nation’s top sophomores or juniors who are studying math, science or engineering.

“I was happy and shocked when I heard I won,” says Mohammad, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering. "It is still totally unbelievable.”

Universities were allowed to nominate as many as four students for the award. A scholarship committee judged the students’ academic records and the significance of their research.

NJIT nominated Mohammad, whose research topic – global warming -- couldn't be more significant, or more topical. Mohammad does solar research with Carsten Denker, a prominent physics professor. The two are surveying the sun’s effects on the Earth’s climate -- research that is helping scientists understand global warming.

Mohammad is the second NJIT student in fours years to win a Goldwater. In 2003, Biren Bhatt won the scholarship for researching a fast-acting blood-clotting agent that could help prevent people from hemorrhaging. Bhatt was a scholar in the Albert Dorman Honors College at NJIT who was graduated in three years with a perfect 4.0 GPA. He’s now in his third year at the UMDNJ-Medical School.

Mohammad’s achievements are equally impressive.

He, too, is a scholar in NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College, with a near-perfect grade point average of 3.95. In March, he was awarded the American Council of Engineering Companies Top Scholar award. He is a member of the National Honors Society; the Phi Eta Sigma Honors Society and the International Electrical and Electronics Engineering Society (IEEE).

Mohammad was born in Pakistan. He attended a high school there that is affiliated with Cambridge University, England. He thus holds an advanced-level high-school diploma from Cambridge University. He excelled in math, science and computing in high school -– he graduated with a 4.0 -- and wanted to attend college in America.

His father had come to the U.S. in the 1970s to earn a degree in mechanical engineering and later settled, with his family, in Hamilton, N.J. Mohammad had returned to Pakistan for high school. But, inspired by his father, knew he wanted to study engineering in America.

He applied to NJIT. It was a research university that offered its students the chance to work on important research projects with prominent professors, he thought. The university’s small student-to-professor ratio also appealed to him. At a university with small classes, he hoped, the professors might take a personal interest in students. NJIT accepted him, but so did other top-ranked universities such as Purdue, the University of Michigan and the University of Texas.

He chose NJIT. And now, two years later, NJIT has become all he imagined it would be. His research project, for instance, couldn’t be more rewarding or interesting. Mohammad uses the Big Bear Solar Observatory -- the premier university-based solar observatory in the world -- to study the solar cycles of the sun. The observatory, located in Big Bear Lake, Calif., is managed by NJIT.

Every day since 1996, a telescope at the observatory has captured images of the sun. The images are archived on Big Bear’s website, and downloaded to a solar center at NJIT in Newark, where Mohammad does his research. The observatory also records data on the sun’s energy output, magnetic fields, solar flares and sun spots.

Mohammed interprets that data and converts the pictures into graphic images. The images illustrate the variation of the solar cycle, which in turn affects the earth’s atmosphere. His research shows that the sun's total emission of light varies slightly -- by a few tenths of a percent. But, interestingly, the solar ultraviolet spectrum varies by few percentage points.

So what’s the point of his findings? Ultraviolet light affects the chemistry of the highest layers of the Earth’s atmosphere; and changing that chemistry results in cloud formation, which can be a cause of global warming. He’s just a sophomore, but his research is already being noticed. He wrote an academic paper describing his research -- the paper will appear in the upcoming issue of Solar Physics -- and Denker recently presented their research findings at a solar conference in Portugal.

Mohammad and Denker, though, don’t say whether their discovery -- the variations in the solar ultraviolet spectrum -- cause global warming. They do the research, publish and present their results and pass their knowledge onto the scientific community. Their solar research is "a small piece of the puzzle of global warming," says Denker, "but an essential piece."

“If we don't first understand the sun and its effects on the earth’s climate," adds Denker, “we'll never understand the true causes of global warming.”

For his part, Mohammad is thrilled to be working with Denker and doing such high-profile research at such a young age. He’ll continue doing his solar research and studying electrical engineering, and the next scholarship he intends to apply for is the world’s most prominent: a Rhodes Scholarship.

But more than anything, Mohammad is happy he chose NJIT.

“I'm just a sophomore but NJIT has already given me so many great opportunities,” he says. “Having a paper soon to be published in a major scientific journal; having my research presented at an international conference; being able to use the Big Bear observatory and now, winning a Goldwater Scholarship – it’s all extremely amazing to me."

By Robert Florida, University Web Services