Starboard, Starbound

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics

Starboard, Starbound

SPS Chapter President Aims for The Olympics and Outer Space

North Georgia College & State University

Related Story: UNG Senior Training for Spot on Olympic Team

Ben Hefner, a physics major and canoeist at the University of North Georgia (UNG) in Gainesville, plans to compete in the 2016 Olympics and, some day, become an astronaut. He sat down with The SPS Observer to talk about his busy life.

Why physics?

I started school as a biology major but quickly decided that physics, the science of everything, was a better fit. I have always had a fondness for the exploration of the unknown. Space is the final frontier, and I would like to one day become an astronaut, which reinforces my decision to go with physics.

How are you involved with your SPS chapter?

I am currently the president of the SPS chapter here at UNG. We organize fundraisers and group activities to strengthen the unity of the department. In addition, we have been promoting undergraduate research and participation in summer programs. I also attended the American Physical Society Southeastern Section meeting last year in Tallahassee, Florida, and plan to attend the meeting again this year.

Do you spend any time in the lab?

I am a TA in the Physics 1 lab and tutor lower-level physics classes. I also do research with Richard Prior; last semester, we worked on calibrating detectors in the department in order to more accurately measure a black body spectrum from the Sun. This semester we are investigating fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic field.

How do you balance your schoolwork, your research, and your sport?

I have learned that regardless of how good you are, it is impossible to devote your life to two things at once. I have seen a drop in performance, both in school and in my sport, that is due to my attempt to juggle both. As I devote myself more to my studies, I find myself finishing second or third in races as much as I finish first. I am still a top athlete in the country, but my former dominance over the competition has lessened. So I plan on taking a few years off from school to fully pursue my Olympic dream. After that I will return to academia in order to devote myself totally to my graduate studies.

How do you cope with stress?

I do find myself overwhelmed sometimes. But for the most part, I am able to maintain stability with the support of my family, professors, coach, and friends. Without them, and their willingness to work with me and my busy schedule, I would surely be lost. One of the biggest challenges I have faced in my life was the loss of my father in 2009. With the help of great friends, I was able to rise again and be stronger for it. It has brought my family closer together and only fueled my desire for success in life. Life is too short to squander away without ambition.

If you could visit one place in the solar system, where would it be?

I would probably choose Titan. This is Saturn’s largest moon, and the only place in the solar system that may have liquid water on its surface. But really anywhere off world would be cool. //

Cheer Ben On

Follow his athletic career at the website of the US Olympic Committee,

Check out UNG’s SPS chapter at

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Singularities - Profiles in Physics