U Student Honored With Esteemed STEM Research Fellowship


By Mackenzie McDermott

The highly prestigious Fannie and John Hertz Foundation awarded University of Utah’s Ethan Lake a fellowship grant of $250,000 for up to five years of physics research.

The Hertz Foundation weeded through 721 applicants this year to find the best and brightest in applied physical, biological and engineering sciences. Lake is one of only 12 recipients and the second in the U’s history to receive the honor.

This process began with an application due in late October. Lake went on to multiple rounds of interviews. Even when facing such intense levels of competition, Lake was able to enjoy himself and let his love of physics shine through.

“The interviewers were former Hertz fellows, and in each interview I quickly overcame my nervousness and ended up having a blast talking about science with them,” said Lake.

The final decision came March 13 in the form of a video message from the foundation’s president.

“I didn’t get the message until pretty late in the evening on the day that the winners were to be announced,” Lake said. “So I had spent the majority of that afternoon thinking that I hadn’t been selected and sort of coming to peace with that. Then, when I got the message, it was a huge surprise.”

Distinguished scholarship and senior academic advisor of the U’s honors college, Michelle Taliaferro told Lake of the fellowship and aided him in his pursuit.

“When Ethan sent me an email telling me the good news, I almost fell out of my chair, as I knew what he achieved was a huge accomplishment and had to call him right away,” shared Taliaferro.

Lake plans to pursue further research and development in the realm of physics.

“I graduated high school with something like a 2.8 GPA and didn’t have any huge motivation to do anything particular in college. So, to go from getting a D in AP physics to getting an award like this for my physics research, in about four years, has been incredible.”

These new funds provide Lake with the resources necessary for him to direct his energy towards his work.

“I’m hoping that it will allow me to explore more and work with a larger variety of people than I would be able to otherwise, where funding concerns could mean that I’d be locked into working within a particular small group,” said Lake.


Lake’s success has started to excite interest in other students at the U to try for the fellowship.

“I am so happy for Ethan,” said Taliaferro. “He is a phenomenal physicist, and I am so excited to see where this fellowship takes him, as well as the connections he will make. He has truly inspired other U students. I have already had students come up to me wanting to learn more or apply.”

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