In high school Newton Nguyen wasn't crazy about math. He did well, but didn't put much effort into it. "It wasn't until I took AP Physics. Then I realized I could visualize math. That's actually how I can be in the world now days without seeing. I visualize everything. It's kind of ironic because part of one of my projects right now is working on data visualization techniques."
Newton, a geophysics major, graduated last spring. He's blind. "Everything is a blur of colors to me. I don't really see objects, just colors." As a freshman he was interested in pure physics. "When I got to college and found out about proofs and what math really is, 2 + 2 = 4, well why does 2+2=4? Let's prove it, that's when I got really into it." Even with that interest sparked, math was a challenge at Berkeley. "I failed my first math class. That really killed my self-esteem." But he didn't give up. "I took it again and got an A." When he took Math 53 Vector Calculus and Math 54 Linear Algebra and Differential Equations, he found out about the Intensive Math Sessions at PDP and headed to Stephens Hall for help.
Spring semester of his second year Newton took EPS 50 The Planet Earth and his focus started shifting. He learned about the physical and chemical processes that have shaped the earth. After one class he had a question for Professor Qi Wang: What happens when you mess up a system seismically and groundwater starts flowing? Their discussion led to Professor Wang asking Newton to do research with him. "We were using ground water waves to measure earthquakes in New Zealand. Water level changes over time because the Earth and the sun pull on the water gravitationally. That's constant. After earthquakes we noticed that the frequency and the oscillation of the water waves change. If we measure that then we can measure the earthquake and measure what happens underground too."
As part of the Cal NERDS UC LEADS program, Newton spent the before his senior year at UC Santa Barbara working under Professor Federic Gibou in the Computational Applied Sciences Lab.
He is still interested in the interface between coupled Earth systems, such as oceans and atmosphere, and mantle flows and plate tectonics, and he's now creating computer models of those interactions. "I'm really interested in fluid dynamics. It's considered one of the biggest unsolved problems in physics. I want to figure out how turbulence works computationally and also apply that to more real-life applications. The atmosphere and the oceans are all fluids and the interaction between the atmosphere and the oceans are understudied. It's a big part of finding out how hurricanes are driven, how clouds are formed. It's really complex."
Newton balanced his work with another passion. He was a member of the Cal Triathlon team. "I have a guide who goes with me for the entire race. He swims, bikes and runs with me." Last year he was part of the team that went to the USA Collegiate National Championship in South Carolina. "I was the first para-althlete to cross the finish line at national ever. It was an honor."
Two weeks after graduation, Newton started working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "It's pretty cool work. We are working with NASA's CIAReO Satellite mission to measure the radiation coming off of Earth as a way to measure climate change."
He is thinking about where to apply for graduate school. "I know I definitely want to get a Ph.D. Whether it's in applied physics, engineering or earth science, that's the problem. Fluid dynamiocs is applied to all of these fields. Whatever I end up doing, it has to include coding and modeling on computers because that's what I do best. That's my strength."