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Spring 2013

Student Spotlight: College of Sciences

David and Laura McMaster

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David and Lisa McMaster graduate together with pair of bachelor's degrees in Physics

Couple has endured military deployments, numerous hours in physics and astronomy research laboratories

This month marks the end of the first chapter of a long educational journey that lies ahead for David and Laura McMaster, a husband and wife team who are receiving their bachelor's degrees in physics.

The couple plans to pursue their doctoral degrees in physics at UTSA through a joint program with Southwest Research Institute.

The San Antonio natives met eight years ago when David was in the Air Force Reserves and completing core classes at a community college before continuing on for a physics degree at UTSA. Laura was employed as an administrative assistant for a pastor working with youth and young adults at the former Eagle's Nest Christian Fellowship. The two began dating and were married 18 months later.

"David encouraged me to go to school. I took an astronomy class and just loved it," said Laura. "It was the only thing that I have been super-excited about as far as a career goes."

Laura continued taking classes and transferred to UTSA from a community college to pursue her interest in astronomy. She was accepted for an internship with Eric Schlegel, the UTSA Vaughan Family Endowed Professor in Physics. He offered her the opportunity to research a cataclysmic binary star system called U Scorpius. Her newest project tests whether forming stars and star clusters are the cause of diffuse X-ray emission in nearby face-on galaxies.

"Laura has been a hard-working student but a delight to work with because she invariably finds something humorous in the discussion," said Schlegel. "She initially comes across as a very serious student, but you gradually realize she is a seriously funny person."

Meanwhile, as Laura was charging forward toward her degree, David's educational pursuits were put on hold as he served his country. He completed military deployments in Kuwait, the UAE, Okinawa and Iraq. David is an explosive ordinance technician, more familiar to civilians as a bomb squad technician. He handles a variety of munitions including hand grenades, mortars and improvised explosive devices.

With his deployments completed, David returned to UTSA and began pursuing nanoparticle research under the leadership of Miguel Yacaman, chair of the UTSA Department of Physics.

"David worked on the cutting-edge topic of optimizing catalysts based on platinum. Using the Advanced Microscopy Laboratory, he was able to obtain amazing results," said Yacaman.

David examined nanoparticles using "Helenita," one of the world's most powerful electron microscopes. The JEOL microscope magnifies samples up to 20 million times their original size. It was purchased in January 2010 with the help of a $1.2 million gift from the Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation.

"Being able to actually see an atom is unique," said David. "When you have your particles, they become like crystals when you add energy to them. They shift because they are trying to get to their lowest energy state and will shift around while you are taking photos."

Both David and Laura credit Professors Yacaman and Schlegel with providing the support and resources that were instrumental in achieving their educational success. The couple encourages undergraduate students to reach out to Physics and Astronomy faculty members to gain that invaluable laboratory experience.

In the distant future, the McMasters plan on pursuing post-doctoral positions in either industry or academia. Regardless of what the future holds, both plan on being there to support one another, as they have done for the last six-and-a-half years.

"Usually couples who try to explain their work with their spouses get a glazed look, so it is nice that we can have a scientific conversation," said Laura. "We study well together and have many friends that study with us, so it is easy for us being together constantly."

– Kris Rodriguez

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