Exploring U-M’s Opportunities Around the World



Physics with a humanities perspective

August 9, 2019
Written by
Sophie Barterian

Sophie Barterian

Sophie Barterian wanted to know how her degree in interdisciplinary physics with complex systems can relate to arts and culture around the globe. In search of answers, she will spend a year in Seoul working with Art Center Nabi.

Barterian found the opportunity through a U-M connection. When considering grad school in South Korea, she connected with a U-M alum teaching there who suggested she explore the Art Center’s openings.

Art Center Nabi is unique. Specializing in digital art, Barterian will learn about machine learning and artificial intelligence through the lens of her physics background.

“It’s a pretty niche thing, but it’s cool,” she said.

As a student, Barterian received many accolades for her physics research. She even presented her work on particle sphericity to the American Physical Society. She is committed to exploring how physics can be a multifaceted field.

“It’s really interesting to me, mixing a hard science with humanities. I wanted to explore that interdisciplinary work,” she said.

Barterian, who has never lived outside of Ann Arbor, wanted to find an opportunity to study abroad.

“I have always wanted to go to Asia, and I’m not really sure why,” she said. “I am very excited to be in a place where English is not the dominant language.”

After encouraging words from her peers and colleagues at U-M, Barterian found the Henry Luce Fellowships—scholarships that apply exclusively to qualified students hoping to travel to Asian countries.

In Seoul, Barterian has started taking Korean classes before starting work at Art Center Nabi. Currently without Korean-speaking experience, she said, “there’s going to be a lot of miming and charades once I get there, which will be fun and terrifying.”

After finding early success in physics at U-M, Barterian simply wants to expand her understanding of the field she is pursuing through this year-long program in South Korea.

“A lot of times, in the sciences, the path is pretty cut and dried, but this is a good chance to see other aspects of the field before I make decisions about the rest of my life,” she said.

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