Rutgers University–Camden Graduate Finds Niche in Physics Research

John Tomko will graduate from Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor's degree in physics.

John Tomko will graduate from Rutgers–Camden with a bachelor’s degree in physics.

John Tomko never envisioned his Rutgers University–Camden experience unfolding quite like it did. But as the adage goes, sometimes the best things in life are unplanned.

“I came to Rutgers–Camden as a computer science major and I read a lot of Stephen Hawking, so I also had an interest in astrophysics,” recalls Tomko, a Berlin resident.

However, you could say it just wasn’t in the stars, so to speak.

Tomko remembers discussing his future with Sean O’Malley, an associate professor of physics at Rutgers–Camden, when O’Malley made a bold prediction that Tomko wasn’t quite ready to accept.

“He told me that by the time I graduated, I’d be doing experimental physics,” Tomko says. “I thought, ‘No way. It’s not interesting.’ I just think it was a lack of understanding of experimental physics. As I started to get in depth with my research, I thought it was a really cool field. I like experimental work now and as it turns out, I have no interest in astrophysics.”

Four years after the conversation with O’Malley, Tomko has earned distinct praise for his experimental research on nanoparticles and laser ablation, a process that removes material from a solid or liquid surface by irradiating it with a laser beam. During his undergraduate experience at Rutgers–Camden, Tomko has authored three published research papers and won two awards for poster presentations at research conferences.

“Research sets you up to have success in the future,” Tomko says, speaking of the advantage undergraduate research gives students seeking graduate school and career opportunities. “It’s because of working in the lab here that I’ve had all of these experiences.”

Tomko has presented his research at a conference of the European Materials Research Society in northern France. The society has more than 3,200 members from industry, government, academia, and research laboratories who meet regularly to debate recent technological developments of functional materials.

The Rutgers–Camden senior has also brought his research to the International High Power Laser Ablation and Directed Energy Symposium in New Mexico, which offers learning and networking opportunities for researchers.

“There’s a huge disparity between computational work in our field and experimental work,” Tomko says. “I hope my research can help to bridge the gap.”

An Eastern Regional High School graduate, Tomko, who will graduate from the Rutgers–Camden College of Arts and Sciences during commencement exercises on May 19, now has his sights set on even more research. He’s been accepted into a doctoral program in materials engineering at the University of Virginia.

“I like the idea of continuously learning and making breakthroughs in the field,” Tomko says. “I want to do that in industry or in academia, and I like the idea of doing my own research.”

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