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February 21, 2008

Gates Cambridge Scholarship to Send UMBC Physics Major on Path of Newton, Hawking

Philip Graff is UMBC’s Second Consecutive Winner of Prestigious Full Scholarship to Cambridge

CONTACT: Chip Rose, UMBC News

UMBC senior physics major Philip Graff will follow the path of science greats Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking to Cambridge University as the second UMBC student in the past two years to win the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, one of the world’s most selective academic awards.

Graff, who will pursue a Ph.D. in physics, was one of just 45 U.S. winners chosen from more than 600 applicants and 119 finalists. Graff is UMBC’s second consecutive Gates Cambridge Scholar, following alumnus Ian Ralby ‘02, who won in 2007. Other U.S. winners for 2008 included students from Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton and other prestigious universities.

The Gates Cambridge was created in 2000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which donated $210 million to establish the Gates Cambridge Trust. The award fully funds one to four years of graduate study in any field at Cambridge University.

The Gates Scholarship is too young to have become a household name like the Rhodes Scholars Program (established in 1902) or the Marshall Scholarships (established in 1954). But like the Marshall and Rhodes, the Gates only accepts the cream of the academic crop. The Gates Scholarship is expected to grow into one of the world’s most recognizable programs over time thanks to the high quality of its winners and the program’s unique emphasis on public service and research career paths.

Graff, a native of Manalapan, NJ, came to UMBC on a full scholarship through the University Fellowship program and is a member of the Honors College. Graff, who maintains a 4.0 G.P.A., plans to attend Cambridge but was also accepted at other prestigious universities including MIT and the University of Illinois. After graduation and post-doctoral study, Graff plans a career as a university professor and researcher.

For Graff, the Cambridge experience will be an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of some of history’s greatest physicists (such as Isaac Newton) and hopefully to meet a personal hero, Stephen Hawking of “A Brief History of Time” fame.

“It’s said that Cambridge has been home to more Nobel Prize winners than all of France, so it’s an amazing honor to study there.” Graff said. “I consider Hawking one of the great minds in the field, so I really hope to meet him.”

An astrophysicist, Graff studies what gravitational waves (caused by the interactions of binary stars and other massive bodies) can tell us about the large scale structure and history of the universe. He created a computer model of quasar radiation as an undergraduate at UMBC and worked with one of the world’s most sensitive scientific instruments, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), during a National Science Foundation fellowship at Caltech. His quasar work is the topic of a research paper currently under refereeing with the Astrophysical Journal.

Graff has also been highly involved with campus life at UMBC, serving as president of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, Director of Student Advocacy with the Student Government Association and a teaching assistant. In the little spare time he has, he enjoys playing video games, watching movies and playing ultimate Frisbee.

Science runs in the family for Graff; his older brother is an aerospace engineer. “My parents always pushed us, but beyond a certain point it becomes self-motivated,” said Graff. “We had a pretty normal childhood; I played little league and was on the bowling team and my brother was active in Boy Scouts. But we did do pretty well in science fairs,” Graff said.

Graff hasn’t had much time to reflect on his achievements to date, but does recall with amusement a favorite family report card story. “My first grade math teacher said I didn’t understand mathematical concepts but was just memorizing,” he said. “So I guess I showed her.”

About the Gates Cambridge Scholarship Program:

In October 2000, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a donation to the University of Cambridge of $210 million to establish the Gates Cambridge Trust.
The gift funded in perpetuity an international scholarship program to enable outstanding graduate students from outside the United Kingdom to study at the University of Cambridge. The Trustees are required to award scholarships on the basis of a person's intellectual ability, leadership capacity and desire to use their knowledge to contribute to society throughout the world by providing service to their communities and applying their talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others.

Following interviews held in Annapolis, Maryland, on 8 and 9 February 2008, the Gates Cambridge Trust announced that scholarships for study at the University of Cambridge were awarded to 45 American students. Over 600 students from the United States applied for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship this year and 119 of them were interviewed at St John’s College and the United States Naval Academy.

For more information about the Gates Cambridge Scholarship program, please visit

Posted by crose at February 21, 2008 8:00 AM