Photograph by Beth Wynn/Mississippi State University

As a first-year student, Ben Crider, ’06, knew exactly what he wanted to study — physics. He just needed to narrow his focus. Thanks to his University of Richmond faculty mentors, that happened quickly.

“I was able to dive in right away, and the small class sizes allowed me to engage with the faculty pretty much as soon as I stepped foot on campus,” said Crider, who keeps in touch with many of UR’s current and retired physics faculty. “I had an opportunity to do research starting that first year and realized that I wanted to be a nuclear physicist.”

Now an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, Crider not only nurtured his love for physics at UR but also experienced a model for how to guide his students.

“Few teachers have been as good as the ones I had at Richmond,” said Crider. “I wouldn’t have gotten the drive I have and the underlying basis to do what I’m trying to do if I hadn’t gone to a place like UR.”

Crider’s research has caught the attention of the National Science Foundation, which is backing his low energy physics project with a highly competitive Career Grant Award.

The five-year NSF funding will support his research — which he will conduct at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory in Michigan — on the structure of the atomic nucleus. Crider says nuclei are generally thought of as spherical balls, something he also once believed to be the case, but their structure is actually much more complex.

“Some nuclei look like rugby balls, and some look more like pancakes,” he said. “That’s where my research plugs in. We are trying to understand more about these nuclei and their role in the universe.”