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UB grad aces physics subject test of GRE

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UB graduate Geoffrey Fatin has achieved something that his UB faculty mentors say they’ve never seen before: He scored a maximum 990 points on the physics subject test of the Graduate Record Examination.

Fatin, 23, a Buffalo native, was equally surprised by his test results. He remembered how easily he completed the questions, but he traditionally has always doubted his test results.

“It was a Sunday night right after a hockey game when I saw my score,” said Fatin. “I was exhausted, and I had been hurt during the game. I’m typically pessimistic with respect to how well I do on tests. For as long as I can remember, I have never been too confident about my abilities. But out of all things that I’ve done, I felt pretty good after taking that exam.”

His test results did more than raise the eyebrows of his physics mentors.

“I have not seen a perfect physics GRE score during my 10 years at Buffalo,” said Igor Zutic, professor of physics. “Nor have my senior colleagues seen it among any undergraduates from our department, even including those who are now distinguished faculty at major U.S. universities.”

A representative of the GRE contacted by the UB Reporter agreed that a perfect score on the test is a rare occurrence among domestic students.

Fatin, who graduated in 2015, maintained a 4.0 GPA with a double major in physics and mathematics. A UB Ambassador for the physics department, he also volunteered as a freshman, teaching science and mathematics to public school students.

He currently is applying to 14 schools to pursue a PhD program in physics, with an interest in studying high energy and condensed matter physics.

“I’d like a career in teaching physics, preferably at the graduate level,” he said. “I get a lot of satisfaction out of teaching. I find the most satisfying thing while teaching is when you can effectively teach a difficult concept to someone who is initially foreign to it. It is incredibly satisfying to go through it one step at time until a light bulb goes on for the student.”

Fatin has no magic secret for mastering the physics GRE. He said an affinity for math and science consistently prepared him for the exam, with the most relevant material beginning his senior year at Canisius High School. He does, though, suggest a strategy that could prove useful for someone intending to take the physics GRE.

“I have found that cramming for a test is probably the worst thing to do in physics. The most helpful thing is mental clarity,” he advised. “In a sense, I was preparing for it over the past four years at UB with general coursework and the way that I wrote my homework assignments.

“I try not to look at an equation and just use it; rather, I try to think about how I could derive the equation before using it, which then reinforced the concepts even more,” he added. “That way, I engrained the concepts into my memory better.”

Another factor in Fatin’s academic success is his passion for science and a curiosity and desire to know how our universe operates.

But passion does have its drawbacks. Fatin admitted frequently feeling stressed and frustrated due to a need for perfection.

“I struggled to achieve the grades that I obtained,” he said. “However, I consistently got A’s and A-’s in middle school, and I graduated as the valedictorian from my high school. My perception of myself is very critical. I will always find flaws,” he said.

“But if you asked my teachers, they’d probably say that I was a very good student. Behind the scenes, however, I was constantly stressing and worrying about school and studying most of the time.”

Fatin is determined to advance the known boundaries of science. His first step was joining Zutic’s research team, where he still studies the production and harnessing of quasiparticles — phenomena that can behave like particles.

“This (research) could lead to the creation of a fundamental piece for what is called a qubit, which is basically a quantum computer’s version of a bit,” he explained. “They would help to establish a new way of storing and processing information, but we are very far removed from this lofty goal for a number of important reasons,” he said.

“I find it always interesting to think about how my current work might extend to the unknown. That is very exciting to me, and it drives me further.”

By Jeffrey Guiher