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Bethel Alumna Participates in Nobel Week

Aeli Olson ’17, a chemistry and physics double major, poses for a photo with physics professors after hearing news that she received the Swedish Council of America’s Glenn T. Seaborg Science Scholarship.

At the end of the spring semester, Aeli Olson ’17 headed to the president’s office for a meeting. President Jay Barnes had requested to talk with her before she graduated to hear her Bethel story. As she was shown to his office, she remembers hearing a lot of voices.

Instead of scheduling a one-on-one meeting, Barnes had asked Olson’s professors to join him in presenting her with the Glenn T. Seaborg Science Scholarship from the Swedish Council of America (SCA), an annual award given to one outstanding student within the natural sciences selected through nominations made by the college presidents of six Swedish heritage institutions. Fourteen of Olson’s professors showed up for the 8 a.m. surprise party to honor her. Olson was moved by the large show of support. “It was really touching,” she says. “It goes to show that Bethel professors are really high quality, and they care about what they do.”

Olson describes herself as “the easiest case” for the Bethel admissions office four years ago. She was familiar with the university because her two older siblings had already graduated from Bethel—Amalia Olson ’12 and Christian Olson ’13—and she felt called to study physics, a top major at Bethel.

During her senior year in high school, Olson discovered a field called medical physics, which as its name suggests applies physics concepts, theories, and methods—such as quantum mechanics, nuclear, and radiation—to the biological and medical areas. As a Bethel student, Olson began taking courses in those areas and attended a conference at the Mayo Clinic on medical physics. By her sophomore year she knew she was on the right path.

During her sophomore and junior years as well as the summer between, she worked as a student researcher in Professor of Physics Nathan Lindquist’s lab. During the summer between her junior and senior years, she worked as a student researcher at the Mayo Clinic. All of these research opportunities—plus a published paper—helped her as she applied to graduate programs during her senior year. Now, Olson is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—studying nuclear medicine.

As the recipient of the SCA’s Seaborg Science Scholarship, this week Olson traveled to Sweden to present her research at the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar. She is among 25 other high-achieving young scientists from around the world participating in Nobel Week. Participants also tour universities and research institutes in Stockholm, and meet Nobel laureates. She then attends the Nobel Awards Ceremonies and Banquet on December 10.

Olson feels blessed with how Bethel has prepared her for the next chapter in her life, not just academically, but in terms of her faith as well. She credits the biblical and theological studies department at Bethel for helping her understand her Christian faith better and the range of views within Christianity. “I feel well prepared to present Christianity to a logical audience,” she says.

And she will continue to let her faith in God guide her. “I’ve really stepped through the doors as they open and I don’t see myself as trying to force anything I’ve done,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve done anything cool. I’ve just been living and doing my work. But I look back and see that He’s given me a really cool resume. He’s definitely blessed me. I try to keep working hard for Him and He keeps pushing me.”

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