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16-year-old studying nuclear physics at MSU

Posted at 7:48 PM, Dec 10, 2021

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University has a 16-year-old prodigy on their hands studying nuclear physics. Her name is Maya Wallach.

"I know a lot of people have called her prodigy. We just call her Maya," said Maya's mom, Kenya Wallach. "She's just my baby."

Maya Wallach is a 16-year-old girl from Virginia. Her love for learning about dinosaurs as a child, later sparked her interest in computer programming, engineering and now physics.

Wallach said she chose to attend MSU for two reasons.

"They've got the best nuclear physics program here," she said, "and, second, I met a professor that worked here, Dr. Paul. And he convinced me to come here."

"I received a call the summer of 2020 from some colleagues of mine, faculty at another institution. They met Maya at conference. I believe it was the black engineering conference. They wanted to have me part of a discussion with her and her parents," said Paul Gueye, an associate professor of physics at MSU.

Gueye began working with Maya when she was 15 years old.

"After about a couple of weeks, or so I realized she was kind of a unique student. She was able to solve some problems that usually second year, undergraduate physics majors are doing," he said.

Wallach said what she finds interesting about physics "is that I guess it just teaches me more about the world around me."

Her parents Kenya and Adam Wallach, are both educators. They taught Maya how to learn and think for herself.

When Maya and her siblings reached third grade, they were encouraged to find answers to their own questions.

"I think it made me want to learn independently more," Wallach said.

Maya is a busy student juggling school work, research, an internship at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

"I'm very proud of her for what she's accomplished so far," her mom said. "She did mention that one of her motivating factors is to be better than me..."

Wallach's advice to young women interested in this area of study is to, "just go for it," because there's never been a better time.

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