Olti Myrtaj has big plans to expand accessibility for those interested in physics and mathematics research. This inaccessibility is a problem he intends to fix by facing it head on. 

“I want to serve as a catalyst that encourages both scientists and nonscientists alike to realize the importance of research in physics and mathematics,” said Myrtaj. 

Now a junior double majoring in physics and mathematics, both part of the Virginia Tech College of Science, Myrtaj says the decision to do undergraduate research was an easy one, in no small part because he enjoys asking questions and autonomously exploring problems. Key to his experience was his willingness to ask a lot of questions when faced with unfamiliar research topics, as well as taking the time to independently gather materials to address research questions.

“Undergraduate research gives me the opportunity to face complex situations with problems that do not have immediate answers. It has really broadened my understanding and capability to effectively research,” said Myrtaj, who currently does particle physics research on dark matter, which is still not fully understood by scientists even after decades of research. 

“This frontier research in particle physics is prohibitively technical and abstract to nonscientists, but that does not make it unimportant. Understanding nature at its most fundamental levels revolutionizes our view of the world and inspires people everywhere. On another note, worldwide particle physics projects have even shattered political barriers, making collaboration between scientists of different nations possible. Scientists' abilities to make their work accessible arouses the curiosity of generations, enhances scientific critical thinking skills of populations, and exemplifies consolidated global efforts to understand our unfamiliar world,” he said.

For Myrtaj, communicating recent discoveries in physics to friends and professors is a lot of fun. Previously, he served as editor of the Virginia Tech Society of Physics Students’ biweekly newsletter, The Naked Singularity. So when the chance came to be a part of a national group of undergraduates that have similar sentiments about the sciences, Myrtaj said he jumped at the opportunity.

This spring, Myrtaj was selected from a pool of competitive applicants to be an associate editor of the Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (UReCA) for the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) during the 2020-21 publication period. He was encouraged to pursue the position at the recommendation of Christina McIntyre, Virginia Tech’s director of professional development, national scholarships, and international scholarships for the Honors College and recently elected vice president of the NCHC.

“UReCA is a high-quality peer-reviewed undergraduate research journal, so I am proud that Virginia Tech has representation on the editorial board. This is a unique opportunity for Olti – to serve in the spirit of Ut Prosim and to develop his reviewing and writing talents,” said McIntyre.

While the appointment is a celebration of his outstanding research and incredible dedication to his academic studies, serving as assistant editor for an esteemed undergraduate research journal is at the same time another opportunity for him to prepare for his future career.  

“My editorship with UReCA will prepare me for the endeavor of critically analyzing research articles, a skill that I will make use of when I pursue a Ph.D. in theoretical physics,” he said. 

Myrtaj encourages other students to pursue research based on their interests as a means to build upon their skill sets. “Tenacity, the ability to collaborate with others, and patience” are essential skills for anyone doing research in any field, according to him. In addition, he says undergraduate research experiences will benefit both the professional and personal lives of the students involved. 

McIntyre shares his sentiments. “The training NCHC provides the UReCA editors and the collaborative nature of the team will build on his research experience to further develop Olti professionally. I would encourage other [Virginia Tech] students to be inspired by this and strive for these national level opportunities.”

Written by Rachel Kinzer Corell and Abby Mercatoris-Morrison