Dillon Liu First SEAS Student to Win Marshall Scholarship

Holly Evarts
November 26, 2012

Dillon Liu, SEAS ’13, just found out that not only has he won a prestigious Marshall Scholarship—he is also the first Columbia Engineering student ever to receive one.

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to be named a Marshall Scholar. Even a week after getting the phone call, it still hasn't fully sunk in,” says Liu, who is majoring in applied physics and minoring in applied mathematics. “I’m really fortunate to have been able to study at Columbia and be surrounded by so many amazing peers, advisers, faculty members, and opportunities in general.”

Up to 40 US college graduates are selected each year for a Marshall Scholarship, which provides funding for two to three years of graduate study in the UK. The program was founded by a 1953 Act of Parliament and named in honor of US Secretary of State George C. Marshall.

Liu has been interested in physics and mathematics for as long as he can remember—he left high school after 11th grade to come to Columbia Engineering because he’d run out of challenging math and physics classes to take. He thinks physics and math “are really beautiful and mysterious, as well as powerful enough to encompass reality.”

After graduation, Liu will attend the University of Oxford to earn a DPhil in theoretical physics. He plans to focus on condensed matter physics, the study of phases of matter, like solids and liquids, at length scales larger than atoms, but still small enough so that quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and statistical physics are all interacting. He’s especially interested in learning more about topological quantum computing and figuring out how to make it a reality.

Quantum computing would make solving certain problems much faster, challenges like factoring large numbers, critical in modern cryptography, or modeling very complicated systems, from designing better drugs to simulating climate change. Topological quantum computing, explains Liu, is a variant of quantum computing that would be resistant to decoherence, one of the main problems with quantum computing today.

“Topological quantum computing will provide hardware that is vastly more powerful than what exists today,” Liu says. “Pursuing theoretical condensed matter and topological quantum computing at Oxford will quench my thirst for elegant physics, while also fulfilling my commitment to improving our world via applications to biology, neuroscience, economics, chemistry, climate science, and more.”

Liu has worked for the Office of Residential Programs for three years and is currently the community advisor for East Campus Residence Hall. He is also a teaching assistant for the Departments of Physics and Mathematics, and hopes to continue being involved with science education and outreach in the UK.

A New Jersey native, Liu has never traveled out of the US, so he’s very excited about going to the UK. He says that studying at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship will help him pursue his studies in a way that he hopes will be “fruitful for solving problems in many different fields. My passion for physics runs parallel with a passion for making the world a better place, and I feel that the Marshall program really suits that alignment.”