Professor Natalie Gosnell ’08 Receives Cottrell Scholar Award




Colorado College Assistant Professor of Physics Natalie Gosnell ’08 has been awarded the highly competitive Cottrell Scholar Award, which supports both original scientific research and new educational initiatives. 

The $100,000 award is from the private foundation Research Corporation for Science Foundation (RCSA), which supports the physical sciences. The Cottrell Scholar program is highly competitive and open only to faculty members completing their third year in their first tenure-track appointment. This year RCSA granted 25 awards nationally, representing a funding rate of 14% of the approximately 180 applications submitted.

“The Cottrell Scholar Award honors and helps to develop outstanding teacher-scholars who are recognized by their scientific communities for the quality and innovation of their research programs and their academic leadership skills,” notes the RCSA website. “The Cottrell Scholar Award provides entry into a national community of outstanding scholar-educators who produce significant research and educational outcomes.” 

Gosnell, who joined CC’s Physics Department in 2017,  says her educational proposal addresses a lack of retention of underrepresented students in undergraduate physics programs through developing innovative embedded creativity exercises within the introductory physics sequence.

“This creativity curriculum, initially developed with support from Creativity & Innovation at CC, is designed as an intervention to acknowledge creative processes as an important aspect of a student’s physics identity, reduce isolation and increase belongingness, and provide new ways to engage with subject material that reinforces foundational knowledge — all factors that are linked to positive classroom culture as well as student persistence and resilience in physics,” she says.

“One of the many reasons I’m excited by this honor is because the Cottrell Scholar Award recognizes both excellent teaching and research along with academic leadership, which together form the core of my identity as a faculty member,” says Gosnell.

The award will allow her to expand her existing astrophysics research program to investigate how magnetic fields impact stellar evolution. 

“Strong stellar magnetic fields can alter stellar evolution in ways we are still discovering,” she says. “One example of this alteration is seen in sub-subgiant stars, which are magnetically active subgiant stars with starspots. The amount of starspots covering the stellar surface can be a helpful proxy for the overall magnetic activity but is a difficult value to determine through observations. With the incredible data from the space-based Gaia and TESS missions we can now identify a population of sub-subgiants that is both nearby and relatively bright. These sources create a robust observational sample for testing against theoretical models.” 

Gosnell will use a combination of spectroscopic and light curve analysis tools to benchmark the surface conditions of these stars. Together, this information will help test the next generation of models used to describe and understand magnetically active stars. 

Gosnell, who graduated cum laude from Colorado College with a B.A. in physics, went on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she earned an M.S. in astronomy in 2010 and a Ph.D. in astronomy with a minor in physics in 2014. Prior to joining the CC faculty in 2017 she was the W. J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin.

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