Prize Recipient

Recipient Picture

Eric S. Cooper
Pomona College


"For outstanding contributions towards understanding the adaptive significance of ballistichory by modeling and comparing the flight of seeds dispersed by Acanthaceae fruits."


Eric Cooper graduated magna cum laude from Pomona College in 2018 with a B.A. of Arts in physics. His undergraduate thesis research, supervised by Prof. Dwight Whitaker, investigated the aerodynamic properties of ballistically dispersed seeds in Acanthaceae. Using high-speed video and analytical models of seed flight, the research established that high rates of backspin stabilize the orientation of Acanthaceae seeds and enhance dispersal range through reduced drag. Comparing different species of Acanthaceae sheds light onto the adaptive significance of this unusual ballistic dispersal mechanism. Results on the species Ruellia ciliatiflora were published in the Journal for the Royal Society Interface and highlighted in Nature and The New York Times.

In addition to his research on plant biomechanics, Eric participated in two summer National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs, focusing on granular matter and atom interferometry. At college, he played cello in the Pomona College Orchestra and tutored for the Harvey Mudd Upward Bound Program. He also served as a teaching assistant and mentor for Pomona physics classes. Eric is now a first-year Ph.D. student at Stanford University studying atomic physics with the support of an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and the American Physical Society.

Selection Committee:

2018 Selection Committee Members: Laura Greene (Chair), Sujit Datta, Eugene Demler, Joel Franklin, Eun-Ah Kim, David W. Miller, Paul M. Miller, Stephanie Moyerman, Talat Rahman

2018 Finalists: Eric Cooper, Pomona College; Madelyn Leembruggen, University of Cincinnati; Elise LePage, Hamilton College; Connor Occhialini, University of Connecticut; Nicholas Sherman, University of California, Davis; Zhongying Yan, Bryn Mawr College