Kate Wienke, St. Louis junior studying physics, receives 2023 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

Wed, 04/05/2023


Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas junior in physics is KU’s newest Barry M. Goldwater scholar.

Kate Wienke of St. Louis received the honor that recognizes achievements in the STEM fields, making her the 77th KU undergraduate to be given a Goldwater scholarship since they first were awarded in 1989. Wienke, the daughter of Libby Clabaugh and Steve Wienke, is a graduate of Webster Groves High School.

Kate Wienke

“We are delighted for Kate, and we are thrilled for the opportunity to congratulate her on being named a Goldwater scholar,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “Kate has demonstrated an outstanding record of scientific achievement as an undergraduate, and we look forward to seeing her continue to excel in the future. Additionally, I want to express my appreciation to the many faculty and staff who help students like Kate thrive at KU so they can earn their degrees and improve the world as KU alumni.”   

Congress established the Goldwater scholarship program in 1986 in tribute to the retired U.S. senator from Arizona and to ensure a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers. The only students eligible for nomination are sophomore- and junior-level students with outstanding academic records, significant research experience and high potential for careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering.

Wienke aspires to earn a doctorate in astrophysics and lead a team conducting research on astrobiology or exoplanets, as well as to teach at the university level and start a mentorship program for young gender and racial minorities in physics.

Beyond the financial support the Goldwater offers, Wienke said the award also will expose her to the expansive network of former and current Goldwater scholars and connect her with more experienced colleagues in her field.

“The Goldwater really does open doors,” she said.

As an undergraduate, Wienke has already made her mark in physics. In 2021, within KU researcher Ian Crossfield’s KU ExoLab, Wienke compared the densities of exoplanets with the elemental abundances of their stars. She presented on this research at the KU 2022 spring Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Wienke spent last summer doing research at the California Institute of Technology, which she said was one of the most valuable experiences she’s had both personally and academically. One of the surprising lessons she learned was that research is not necessarily how it looks in the movies, with physicists dashing around on an hour of sleep with an endless to-do list.

“There is still plenty of work to be done, and I had my fair share of late nights,” Wienke said. “But I also spent hours just waiting for my code to finish running or to get an email back from a colleague. I definitely received a lesson in patience.”

In September 2022, she was one of 36 students invited to participate in the Caltech’s FUTURE of Physics for junior and senior undergraduate gender minorities in physics. She is now conducting research with Jessie Christiansen on using Spitzer Phase Curve Analysis to detect an atmosphere on the Super Earth-HD within the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute.

At KU, Wienke is an honors ambassador and University Scholar, and she served as the project leader on a team examining diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within the KU Department of Physics & Astronomy.

She also serves as the co-captain of the Women’s Rugby Club and was a member of the KU rowing team her freshman year. Wienke has received numerous accolades, including the KU Gene R. Feaster Physics Scholarship and KU Francis W. Prosser Physics Scholarship, and she was on the 2021 Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team for achieving a 4.0 GPA while participating as a Big 12 athlete.

Wienke’s advice to fellow students who aspire to receive nationally competitive scholarships is to get involved with their passions, not just what makes a student look good on paper.

“Let the 13-year-old in you that loves science peek through,” she said. “The Goldwater, like many scholarships, is merit-based, but they want to see the passion for science and research, too. I got involved in research I found interesting and ended up with the most amazing mentor, Professor Crossfield, who has guided and supported me since the day I stepped into his office.”

KU students interested in applying for Goldwater scholarships next year should contact the Office of Fellowships via email

Wed, 04/05/2023


Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

Media Contacts

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

KU News Service