By Abby Weingarten
Having taught at New College for 20 years, Mariana Sendova, Ph.D. has inspired a lifelong love of physics while building scholarly bonds that continue to grow with each decade.
The students she has mentored have gone on to break publishing records, earn coveted scholarships and fundamentally change the science world.
“I’m genuinely concerned about the success and wellbeing of my students,” Sendova said. “Students are not buckets to be filled with facts; they are torches waiting to be lit.”
Sendova has been passing the academic torch to her students since she earned her Ph.D. at Sofia University and began teaching at New College in August 2000. She started the College’s first experimental physics research laboratory, and has solved multiple scientific problems in applied physics, material science, nanotechnology, spectroscopy and biophysics. She also has two United States patents and more than 80 publications to her name in renowned peer-reviewed journals.
“Physics is built up with facts, as a house is built with bricks. But a collection of facts is no more physics than a heap of bricks is a house,” Sendova paraphrased from a Jules Henri Poincaré quote. “Physics is a way of explaining the natural world that surrounds us, from atoms to galaxies. It provides tools to solve problems in every corner where scientific method should be applied. And it is the foundation of engineering and the technical progress of the humankind.”
Promoting this way of thinking has helped Sendova shepherd her students to massive success. Her mentees have regularly presented their findings at international science research conferences, and have been accepted to Ph.D. programs in physics and engineering at prestigious universities.
One of Sendova’s recent graduates is Matt Mancini, who finished his career at New College in May with more published papers than a doctoral graduate—a record-breaking achievement in a highly advanced academic field.
“Matt graduated with two already published papers, one under review, and another three manuscripts almost ready to be submitted. Such a research record is truly exceptional, unheard of anywhere, nationwide,” Sendova said. “In general, in our area, a Ph.D. candidate is required to have two to three publications. Matt received his B.A. in physics with more publications than a Ph.D. student.”
With this rare accomplishment to his credit, Mancini has moved on to Penn State University (PSU) in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. degree in the top-ranked National Science Foundation (NSF) research graduate program for materials science and engineering.
Mancini’s experience at New College—particularly, his work with Sendova—profoundly shaped him as a person, a scientist and a scholar.
“I came to New College because I wanted skills and knowledge to empower me for the rest of my life,” Mancini said. “I came in expecting that my love of math would translate into a focus on theoretical physics but, after approaching Dr. Sendova, I started to realize that experimental physics provided a significantly greater means for me to apply the previous skills I had developed.”
Half of the students Sendova has sponsored were not physics majors at all; their theses were related to biology, marine science, environmental science and chemistry. She has been involved in projects such as The Biomechanics of Sprinting; Physics and the Chemistry of Photography; The Physics of Rainbows and Mirages; The Thermal Properties of Sand in Connection with Turtle Nesting; and Light-Emitting Glasses, Physics and Chemistry of Color.
“All disciplines where a scientific method can be applied, a physics approach for solving problems can be applied,” Sendova said. “I hope my curiosity for the natural world can be contagious.”
Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.