Undergrad Samantha Contreras wins prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Samantha Contreras
Samantha Contreras

Samantha Contreras, a junior majoring in physics at UC Santa Cruz, has been named a 2023 Goldwater Scholar by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.

The Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious national competition for undergraduates in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering. The scholarships provide up to $7,500 per year for sophomores and juniors from across the country to cover the costs of tuition, fees, books, and other expenses.

The foundation awarded 413 scholarships this year, selecting the scholars on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,267 students nominated by representatives of colleges and universities nationwide.

Contreras has worked on a variety of research projects as an undergraduate, including materials science research in the laboratory of David Lederman, professor of physics at UC Santa Cruz, and particle physics projects at the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP) and as part of a summer undergraduate research program at Caltech. She is currently working with Michael Hance, associate professor of physics at UCSC, on a project at SCIPP testing pixel detectors that will be used for the ATLAS experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider.

Contreras plans to continue doing research in particle physics while pursuing a Ph.D. in physics, with the goal of becoming a professor at a research-focused university. She also wants to help underrepresented students by offering mentorship and creating small projects to give students research experience. Contreras herself is a first-generation student from a low-income household, and she has mentored six freshman first-generation students under UCSC’s Bridge Program. She also helped organize “No-Jargon Talks,” presentations aimed to make STEM research more accessible to undergraduate students and members of the Santa Cruz community.

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program was established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry Goldwater. The scholarship program was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.