Mike Eldridge '10

Mike Eldridge

Mike Eldridge '10

Majors: Physics, Religion; minor: Mathematics
Hometown: Ellington, Connecticut

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
By the time I looked into Bowdoin, I had already toured several colleges and had begun to feel the ennui of the college application process. Then, on my campus tour, I noticed the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good located in the chapel at the center of campus. As someone with a budding interest in the study of religion, the notion of the "Common Good" and the prominent positioning of the chapel struck me as a distinctly modernist attempt to reconcile the diversity of religious beliefs at Bowdoin with the desire to create an overarching moral system that students could subscribe to. I found myself mesmerized by this manifestation of secular religiosity. This fascination, along with the superior food and the stuffed polar bear in Morrell Gymnasium, set Bowdoin at the forefront of my options and ultimately lead me to come here.

Why did you choose your major?
The study of religion has been a longstanding interest of mine. I took Anthropology of Religion during the fall of my first year and found myself inundated by the intricate theories of thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Clifford Geertz. With each theorist I found a new perspective on religious behavior and belief. The sheer variety of perspectives, places, and peoples that the study of religion encompasses has continued to pique my interest throughout my time at Bowdoin.

While I have been interested in religion for as long as I can remember, I first discovered physics during my junior year of high school. I found it intensely interesting, but also found myself humbled by the difficulty of the subject. When I arrived at Bowdoin, I decided to try it again, and as before, found it both challenging and captivating. After taking three or four courses I realized that its siren combination of challenge and reward had ensnared me, and decided to complete the physics major.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
During the spring of my sophomore year I took History of Film II with Professor Tricia Welsch. I went into it knowing virtually nothing about film and came out with an acute awareness of just how little I had previously known. Film studies requires a blend of technical knowledge and interpretive skill, rewarding its pursuant with a far deeper understanding of cinema than the average moviegoer achieves. During the course's weekly film screenings, I felt like I had been reading nothing but Hemingway novels all my life and had suddenly stumbled upon the collected works of William Shakespeare. We covered an immense amount of material, everything from the first talkies to Italian Neorealism and French New Wave cinema.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
Professor Thomas Baumgarte of the physics department has had enormous impact on my education. During my junior spring, I took Professor Baumgarte's course on General Relativity, Albert Einstein's notoriously difficult theory of space, time, and gravitation. As I knew Professor Baumgarte did his research in general relativity, I expected that he possessed a deep understanding of the subject, yet his teaching ability nevertheless surprised me. With grace and humor, he presented general relativity in terms that rendered difficult concepts clear and comprehensible. In the midst of a lecture on Christoffel symbols he dryly warned us that attempting to gather experimental evidence of general relativity by venturing into a black hole could have potentially deleterious effects on our health. Only through tutoring physics have I come to fully appreciate his teaching ability. While learning about and understanding complex concepts certainly takes a great deal of effort, relating the same concept to another person clearly but without simplifying takes mastery.

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Men's rugby team beats Bates in the pouring rain.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
The men's rugby team has shaped my Bowdoin experience by diversifying my group of friends and connecting me to Bowdoin's past and future through interaction with alumni and underclassmen respectively. Experiencing firsthand the collective effervescence of victory after months of training has left me with some of my best memories of Bowdoin. This past fall, in 50 degree weather and pouring rain, we beat Bates for the first time in my Bowdoin career. The memory of standing on the pitch dripping wet and covered in mud, with my arms around my teammates, will stay with me for years.

In the fall of my junior year, I began taking Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes at a local gym. I had wrestled on the varsity team in high school and Jiu Jitsu seemed liked a good way to further my grappling skills. As I expected, my grappling has certainly progressed since I began taking classes, but an unanticipated benefit has been getting to know members of the Brunswick community. Knowing people outside Bowdoin has increased my sense of connection to Brunswick.

I've worked both for Moulton Union Dining Hall and the physics department. Since my sophomore year, I've done physics grading and tutoring. Working for the physics department has helped me understand how deep and multifaceted a professor's understanding of a problem must be in order to successfully help a student who doesn't quite get it. As far as Moulton goes, I never imagined the fun I'd have working at a dining hall. The Moulton employees make working an enjoyable and entertaining experience, though I do feel a little bit guilty every time I eat at Thorne.

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Mike leading a Pre-Orientation trip in the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine.

Aside from working and athletic undertakings, I've also lead a Pre-Orientation trip, participated in the College House System as a member of Quinby House, and contributed to The Bowdoin Orient as a biweekly columnist.

What have you done during your summers?
After my first year at Bowdoin, I lived at home and worked for a local contractor doing roofing, putting up drywall, and other home renovation work. While I enjoyed the work and learned a great deal of practical knowledge, I decided to seek more academically oriented employment for the next summer.

Towards the end of my sophomore year, I applied to a number of Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs around the country. The REU program at Princeton University selected my application, and I spent the summer researching non-linear optics in New Jersey. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet other undergraduates who shared my interest in scientific research, as well experiencing research in a large university setting.

This past summer, I applied for and received a Surdna Fellowship through Bowdoin to do summer research in general relativity. Working with Professor Baumgarte, I looked for analytic solutions to maximal slicings of the height function for the Kerr metric. Roughly speaking, I examined properties of spinning black holes. Having worked in a larger and more impersonal research setting the previous summer, I enjoyed the individual assistance I received working closely with Professor Baumgarte I also had a great time living at Bowdoin during the summer. To my surprise, rather than closing down, Bowdoin merely slows a bit during the break. So, while I spent most of the workweek researching, I also made sure to take time to enjoy the Maine summer, punctuating my work with cookouts, visits to the coast, and ice cream from Cote's.

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
At the start of this school year, my housemates and I needed to furnish our residence, so we decided to take a trip to the closest Ikea, in Boston. We drove down, got lost in the cavernous Ikea warehouse, ate the requisite Swedish meatballs, and stopped at Costco to get other necessary household supplies. On the way back, a container of laundry detergent exploded in the back of my car, leaving a film of soap and a potent floral fragrance. The bizarre part of the story is that this made a positive impression in my mind. In the midst of the chaos I think I realized that the friendships I've made at Bowdoin can transcend circumstance.

What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduating from Bowdoin, I plan to continue studying physics at the graduate level. I'm unsure exactly what area of physics I want to focus on, or what I want to do with it, so I currently plan on working in a science- or technology-related industry before applying to grad school.

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Try new things. Most organizations at Bowdoin are accepting enough to take new members regardless of where they are in their college careers. I didn't consider joining rugby until sophomore year, doing Jiu Jistu until junior year, or co-authoring an Orient column until senior year. It's great to stick with a long-term interest, but at least at Bowdoin, it's also never too late to start something new.

What quirky or fun thing do you wish you had known before you came to Bowdoin?
When you're looking for a cup of coffee at Moulton or Thorne and it appears they've run out, don't be fooled. If you press down enough on the spout to tip the metal pot forward, you can almost always get another cup. This trick has saved me on many occasions.

Story posted on February 10, 2010

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