American Physical Society Honors Senior with Award

A former United States Marine Corps helicopter Crew Chief who fell in love with science fiction and aerospace, Heather Mentzer ’19 credits her academic success at Loyola Marymount University to the Physics Department and their unwavering support.

Mentzer, who heads to UC Santa Cruz in the fall to pursue her Ph.D. in physics, received the “Best Undergraduate Talk” award from the American Physical Society in April 2019 for her undergraduate thesis “Thermodynamics of Charged Generalized Uncertainty Principle Black Holes.” This research evaluates the event horizon, Hawking Temperature and the entropy of Generalized Uncertainty Principle (GUP), modified charged quantum black holes, as they evaporate in accordance with Hawking Radiation, according to the APS website.

Mentzer transferred to LMU from a community college with a passion for physics. “I had the natural inclination, but I struggled, and didn’t think I had it in me to do theoretical physics,” she says. “But I was fascinated by quantum mechanics and general relativity.” She persevered and dug deep.

“Everyone at LMU was kind, welcoming and generous with their time,” she says. “The Physics Department is small, and they embraced me.” The emphasis on research was also a deciding factor. “I would not have known what I was capable of, if I had not asked to do research. If you fear rejection, it is going to be a ‘no’ anyway, so just ask. The opportunities will be there for those bold enough to ask.”

After her first presentation, she says, “I knew I wanted to code, push boundaries, and check and balance the work of others. I am exhaustingly meticulous.” Mentzer asked her mentor, Jonas Mureika, professor of physics and department chair, to help her learn more about relativity.

“I fell in love with theory after a class with Dr. Mureika, but I still enjoy hands-on work with tools and mechanics,” she says. LMU Seaver College of Science and Engineering awarded Mentzer a summer research grant. She practiced giving presentations, writing, and pursuing her research.

Prior to attending LMU, Mentzer served three tours in Afghanistan. Mentzer, who was diagnosed with PTSD, wants those who struggle with mental health issues to know that entering school fresh from the Marines was difficult. “You should know the help is there,” she says. “Whether you think you are by yourself or under-represented, LMU has the resources for you. If you are brave enough to ask, you will find you are not alone.”

Mentzer says it takes courage to seek resources to better your mental and academic life, but she believes it is in those steps, that we blaze the trail for others. She adds, “It was the nurturing LMU environment that helped me figure out who I was.”

Creative Writing major Nina Gibson is a graduate student with the Department of English in LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts.