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Ryan Kozlowski ’16: From Student Researcher to Physics Professor

by | Mar 27, 2024

Kozlowski in the lab, researching the movements of granular materials.

Author: Caroline Roy ’20

Davidson faculty helped Ryan Kozlowski ’16 discover a passion for research and the confidence to share his knowledge with others.

Now, as assistant professor of physics at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, he’s creating a similarly supportive and engaging experience for his own students.  

As a new Wildcat, Kozlowski started out on the pre-med track, but after taking a few classes in the physics department and participating in summer research with Professor of Physics Dan Boye, he changed course.

Ryan Kozlowski ’16

“I got sucked into a black hole — no pun intended,” he said. “By my senior year, I knew I wanted to try and stay in academia, and teaching at a small liberal arts college would be my ideal environment. I began to pursue that goal wholeheartedly”

After leaving Davidson, Kozlowski began a doctoral program at Duke University, where he studied under the late expert physicist Robert Behringer and began researching stick-slip dynamics in granular materials. This involves visualizing the interactions and movements of many particles in a wide range of systems — everything from sand to coffee beans to the dust and ice in Saturn’s rings. By studying these behaviors at a small scale, researchers can better understand huge, geophysical phenomena like earthquakes and landslides.

Kozlowski was eager to get students involved in this research when he became a professor.

“I always wanted to do research that was accessible to undergraduate students, especially since that was such a valuable part of my own experience,” he said. “This work is very hands-on. We build a table-top system, and the students get to see how every component works while collecting data.”

After earning his doctorate in 2021, Kozlowski spent a year as a visiting professor at Berea College in Kentucky before receiving a tenure track offer from the College of the Holy Cross. Now in his second year as an assistant professor, he’s focused on building one-on-one connections with his students and helping them become confident researchers.

“The College of the Holy Cross is a very supportive and tight-knit environment that reminds me of Davidson in a lot of ways,” he said. “It’s wonderful getting to work with students who are passionate about their research and excited to learn.”

As he grows in his position, he continues to turn to his Davidson mentors for guidance, including Boye, Associate Professor John Yukich and Professor Mario Belloni.

“At Duke, I gained experience as a teaching assistant and a guest lecturer,” Kozlowski said. “After a few years of teaching, I find that I still have much room for growth. I have so much appreciation for the work and care my Davidson professors put in to guide their students in the right direction. This job gets more and more fulfilling as I learn to help my students grow with empathy and compassion.”

Throughout his time as a graduate student and new professor, Kozlowski has remained committed to supporting the Davidson community — another way he shows appreciation for all the ways Davidson prepared him for the work he does today. He is a member of the Fideles Society, which recognizes the college’s most loyal donors. Through his contributions to scholarships at Davidson, he is able to help fund the experiences of the college’s next generation of leaders, researchers and teachers.

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