Courtesy of Jeremy Shuler

Jeremy Shuler with his Cornell diploma.

August 12, 2020

Cornell’s Youngest Graduate Sets Out for Ph.D.

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At just 16 years old, Jeremy Shuler ’20 graduated this year with a degree in applied and engineering physics, making him the youngest person to ever graduate from Cornell. While his time at Cornell has come to an end, his academic journey is far from over.

When Jeremy first arrived on campus in 2016, he was only 12 years old and had been homeschooled his whole life. During his freshman year, students would ask him for selfies, signatures and handshakes, Jeremy and his mother, Harrey Shuler, said.

Due to his young age, Jeremy and his mother said that he faced difficulties in obtaining research opportunities.

“It was challenging trying to find professors to do research with because of his age … there were child labor laws Jeremy was subject to and also liability issues especially in lab settings,” Harrey said. “He was lucky to find a professor who let him do research that mostly requires computer simulation work, which doesn’t involve lab work.”

But Jeremy was still able to make the most out of his college education. He was just a Cornell student like everyone else — the only difference was his age.

“No matter where you’re from, or what your age is, essentially we’re all the same,” Harrey said.

Along with the other Class of 2020 graduates, Jeremy’s final months on campus took an unexpected turn because of COVID-19.

“Because Cornell campus closure and lockdown happened so suddenly, I couldn’t properly say goodbye to my friends … but at least there will be a graduation [ceremony] next year, so I’m looking forward to that,” Jeremy said.

Months before graduation, Jeremy was accepted into a Ph.D. program in theoretical particle physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. Since Ph.D. admissions are very competitive, the acceptance was a major accomplishment for the 16-year-old applied and engineering physics student.

Jeremy came into Cornell knowing that he was interested in STEM, and decided to pursue physics during his sophomore year.

“When I started college, I was not 100 percent sure what field I would pursue for my future. I had always loved math, especially number theory since I was five, and I liked the physics that my mom taught me,” Jeremy said. “By the time when I became a sophomore, I decided I would study physics.”

There are two paths in the field of physics — theoretical, which involves mathematical models to explain physics concepts, and experimental, which involves performing tests to make tangible conclusions.

“From early on, I knew that I preferred theory, but wasn’t entirely sure if I would be great at it,” Jeremy said.

During his junior year, Jeremy took courses on quantum mechanics and mathematical physics, further developing his interest in the theoretical concepts of physics.

“I realized that connecting sophisticated math with abstract physical concepts is something that I am really good at,” Jeremy said. “General Relativity and Particle Physics classes I took during my senior year cemented my decision to pursue, specifically, high-energy physics [particle physics].”

Jeremy grew up discussing topics like cosmology and quantum physics with his parents and reading books by famous physicists.

“Understanding our universe by discovering the nature of dark matter, dark energy, quantum gravity, et cetera, became my lifetime goal,” Jeremy said.

As an applied and engineering physics major, Jeremy’s undergraduate research focused on applied physics, specifically plasma-based particle acceleration methods. He was worried his lack of research experience in theoretical high energy physics would hurt his chances at getting into graduate school.

“I knew that it would be considered as a major weakness in my application, along with my age,” Jeremy said.

As Jeremy embarks on his Ph.D. program this fall, he said that research projects and location factored into his decision of choosing UMD. Because Jeremy is a minor, his whole family is planning on moving with him to College Park this month.

“As UMD is located in the D.C. metro area, moving there would also provide more career opportunities for my dad — this was also a very big factor in deciding on UMD physics,” Jeremy said.

As Jeremy studied at Cornell throughout four very formative years, he is looking forward to starting the next chapter of his academic career.

“Four years at Cornell convinced me that pursuing [theoretical physics] for my lifetime career is what I truly want to do,” Jeremy said.