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Posted on Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Meet Andrius Burnelis, one of 10 students selected for a 2020 Summer Research Fellowship. A physics and math double major from Moon Township, Pennsylvania, Andrius and his faculty mentor, Dr. Robert Knop, associate professor of physics, spent their summer months developing a simulation of galaxy collisions. When he’s not studying galaxies or the universe, Andrius is active with Student Government Association and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He is also a member of the Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honor Society, the Kappa Mu Epsilon Math Honor Society and the Math Club.

Why did you apply for the Summer Research Fellowship?
I applied to the Summer Research Fellowship program to increase the amount of research that I have done. I spent some time in Australia last summer assisting with research and really enjoyed that experience. I saw this program as an opportunity to get back into research and to have something to do over the summer during quarantine.

Another motivation for applying was to get a head start on my senior capstone research project. Seeing previous seniors struggle with their research gave me valuable insight in how to succeed. I knew that I would need to start early and get some of the regular hiccups out of the way so when we return in the fall I can start from a strong foundation.

Tell us about your research project.
My project was building off the work of Dr. Knop and another student, Jess Nelson, from our first year. She worked on simulating galaxy collisions while I worked with gas clouds. Dr. Knop and I combined the previous work from my first year. This project is to create a better simulation of galaxy collisions when the galaxies have gas distributed throughout them. Jess’ initial galaxy collisions were missing this component.
Tell us about your faculty mentor.
Working with Dr. Knop is always a fun time. Since we have been working together for the past three years, there are a lot of inside jokes. We had a mutual understanding of how this project was going to work and we took it on like any other project.

How did you conduct your fellowship during quarantine?
A typical day involved us jumping on a discord call and remotely logging in to the physics department network together. We were able to look and control the same screen so we could discuss what we saw or fix errors in the code. This project was computationally heavy so each run would take many hours to complete. I would start it then hopefully come back to a result the next day.

What are your post-Westminster plans?
I hope to pursue a Ph.D. in physics at Ohio State University specializing in either astrophysics or quantum physics.

To learn more about Westminster’s physics major, visit

Sponsored by the Drinko Center for Undergraduate Research, Summer Research Fellowships at Westminster College allow students to conduct hands-on research and creative projects under the guidance of our experienced faculty mentors.