Astrophysics, physics double major earns diploma, top honor

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Undergraduate Shane Bechtel is the spring 2020 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalist for the School of Earth and Space Exploration and will be graduating with a double major in astrophysics and physics as well as a minor in mathematics.

“We congratulate Shane on this well-deserved honor,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration director Meenakshi Wadhwa. “We are incredibly proud of his achievements and look forward to all that he will achieve beyond ASU.”

Bechtel is originally from Northern California and attended high school in Oregon. He credits his high school astronomy teacher, Mr. Black, for inspiring him to study astrophysics in college. 

When applying for college, Bechtel said he chose ASU specifically for the School of Earth and Space Exploration because of the faculty and resources available to students.

In particular, Bechtel says he considers professor and astrophysicist Judd Bowman to be one his role models. “For someone that I met relatively late in my undergraduate career, he is by far someone who has had the largest impact on my life,” he said. “Being a professor is quite possibly my dream career, and professor Bowman is the perfect representation of that dream.”

After graduation, Bechtel plans to return to northern California to pursue a doctoral degree in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: ASU was actually the only school I applied to, which is sort of a surprise as I am not an Arizona resident. I chose ASU however, as I fell in love with the School of Earth and Space Exploration. The resources and faculty here have given me some of the best experiences I could ever ask for. It wasn’t the only option, but after my time here, I am convinced that I would have been hard pressed to find a better one.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I absolutely love the heat, and so there were many days you could find me relaxing out on Hayden Lawn. I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours eating lunch, listening to music, and hanging out with friends out there. It is also a surprisingly good spot for meteor shower viewings if you can’t travel off of campus for them. Whenever it was a bit too chilly out however, I was usually hiding in my department’s main building: ISTB4. There are a lot of nice little areas to relax and get work done there.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will be continuing my education by pursuing a PhD in physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There are various research projects that are available there in regards to extragalactic astronomy. However, it is very likely that I will be working on active galactic nuclei and their interactions with the intergalactic medium at high redshifts. My younger brother is actually attending UCSB as an undergraduate, so I am looking forward to being reconnected to him as well.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: While I do not know enough to adequately describe how $40 million would affect it, I would probably use it for the advancement of sustainable energy technologies to make them more efficient and affordable. I feel that there are other areas where this money would definitely have a more immediate impact. However, finding these viable sustainable energy options and reducing our environmental impacts is something that will beneficially affect people worldwide and is what I believe is the most pressing issue at this time.

This article was written by William Kennedy