August 26, 2008
It is hard to believe that Tomomi Sunayama, a senior from Japan, wasn’t an expert in English when she arrived on Knox's campus. Three years later, the math and physics major is bilingual times two. It isn't just English and Japanese that she speaks fluently, but she also converses in abstract math and computational astrophysics.
Taking advantage of an off-campus study program at Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Sunayama studied in Tennessee during the fall term of her junior year.
At Oak Ridge, Sunayama measured reaction rates to support the research of experimental physicists in learning more about nova and x-ray bursts. “These explosions are very high temperature so we can't measure nuclear reaction rate correctly or it requires a lot of energy, and it costs a lot,” she says matter-of-factly.
After completing the project in 2007, Sunayama still collaborates with her mentor at Oak Ridge and plans on continuing through next term as well. "The experience gave me a lot of opportunities that I totally did not expect when I applied for it."
Adding It All Up
Back on campus Sunayama is engaged in her own research project in mathematics. She says her math project is a lot of pencil and paper work. "Right now I am studying real analysis. Later I will study theory analysis and another branch of analysis and integrals."
Some might say that her current research project in mathematics doesn't add up to her long range plans. She bases her decision on choices. Since she was 12 years old, Sunayama wanted to go into astrophysics. "Even though I want to pursue astrophysics, there is a lot of advanced math I need to study. I really wanted to build a real foundation in math."
Her decision to bolster her math skills is one of the reasons Sunayama says she selected Knox College. "Japanese universities require students to choose one department, and they do not allow students to change their major. I wanted to have options to explore my future career choices," she says.
The Core of My Personality
Although the equation is not complete, Sunayama already knows the answer to her long term theory. "I want to study theoretical astrophysics and the big bang theory. Reading Stephen W. Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" got me interested in that. Some think that time is like a mobile… there is no end or beginning point. I want to study that," she says. "It will help me do a better job in whatever I will do. It will help me build a strong foundation and help me leave my options open."
Sunayama says she is the same person she was when she arrived at Knox. "I don't think the core of my personality has changed. But I am mentally stronger than when I came to Knox. I never lived without my family before." And although she only sees her family during winter break, Sunayama speaks just as affectionately of her Knox family and how she will miss the friends she has connected with in International Club, Japanese Club, her residence halls, and the rest of the Knox community.
Tomomi Sunayama is majoring in both math and physics and is a member of Sigma Xi.