Upstate Honors student wins Astronaut Scholarship

June 11, 2024

Maggie Marte from Williamston, South Carolina, always knew she was interested in physics. However, a science experiment in a Clemson University physics lab led her down the path of her current research in low-temperature physics and to national recognition as a 2024 Astronaut Scholar.

Marte was testing a sample’s electrical resistance at very low temperatures. As her sample cooled, the resistance remained the same before suddenly dropping.

That was when the material lost electrical resistance — and Marte saw her sample reach a superconducting state.

“Right when it reaches the critical temperature, it is so exciting to see that resistance instantly drops,” said Marte.

Two years later, Marte is among 71 students nationwide recognized with the 2024 Astronaut Scholarship, awarded to exceptional undergraduate students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees.

“Exceptional students like Maggie are accelerating science in creative, innovative and impactful ways. Being named an Astronaut Scholar is national recognition of her remarkable drive for discovery and commitment to excellence,” Cynthia Young, Dean of the College of Science

The program was founded in 1984 by the six surviving Mercury 7 Astronauts. Awardees receive up to $15,000 in scholarships and networking, mentoring and professional development opportunities with astronauts, program alums and industry leaders.

The achievement recognizes Marte’s academic and research potential in low-temperature physics, which has also earned her departmental and college awards and a Goldwater scholarship.

“Superconducting materials play a critical role in the quantum computing industry through their applications in quantum processors,” Marte said. “My research has the potential for real-world impacts because superconductors are used to build the building blocks of today’s quantum computers.”

Marte’s research now explores the electrical properties of piezoelectric materials at low temperatures. It is a challenging process that requires customizing a cryocooler capable of evaluating the electrical properties of insulating complex oxides at very low temperatures.

The results of her work have already been published in an academic journal, with two more papers in preparation or production.

Her research mentor, Kasra Sardashti, who recruited Marte to work in his lab after she took one of his physics classes at Clemson, said he is impressed by her motivation and work ethic.

“From her first few months in the lab, I was quite impressed by how organized and meticulous she is in organizing her thoughts and data,” Sardashti said. “She is also very hardworking, spending many hours in the lab, despite having classes and scoring 4.0 GPAs every semester, trying to push forward her experimental research.”

Last summer, Marte also worked for Sardashti as an intern, allowing her to replicate the experiment that inspired her passion for physics research with other students.

Now an assistant professor of physics at the University of Maryland, Sardashti still meets online with Marte weekly to discuss their research.

Marte, an Honors student, is also actively engaged on campus, taking on leadership roles with the University’s Society of Physics Students and organizing a Women in Physics conference. She also serves as an ambassador for the College of Science.

When she’s not studying or volunteering, Marte is in the gym practicing gymnastics on the University’s club team, earning recognition as the NAIGC national collegiate champion on beam in 2023.

This summer, Marte is participating in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program at Vanderbilt University, where she will conduct experiments and simulations with photonic components — materials that can generate, detect, or manipulate light — for quantum information systems.

She also plans to attend the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s annual Innovators Symposium and Gala in August, where she will present her research.

“Maggie is a very talented Physics student with a very bright future. She is intelligent, hardworking, and resourceful,” said Sardashti. “I truly hope she decides to pursue a career in quantum engineering, as our field needs brilliant researchers like her.”

Students interested in the Astronaut Scholarship or other nationally competitive programs should contact the Office of Major Fellowships at 864-656-9704 or [email protected].