Giving that goes above and beyond

The Lowell Burnett Family Charitable Foundation Awards scholarships to three exceptional physics students

Tuesday, March 19, 2024
Dilon Suliman, Joe Garbarino and Nicholas Casteloes are photographed at SDSU
Dilon Suliman (left), Joe Garbarino and Nicholas Casteloes are recipients of the 2024 Lowell Burnett Endowed Awards.

In his three decades serving in San Diego State University’s Physics Department, professor emeritus Lowell Burnett mentored, inspired and educated students while managing multiple businesses and authoring numerous publications.

Burnett, who lost his father at a young age, worked hard to support his educational goals and maintain good grades. With the help of various scholarships, he completed his undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

He began his career at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Lab before moving into the higher education space, teaching physics at SDSU from 1972 to 2001 and serving as Physics Department chair from 1979 to 1988.

Burnett applied his expertise to holding leadership positions at companies such as Quasar Federal Systems which devised technologies for a range of applications. He also cofounded Quantum Magnetics, Inc. which he later sold to General Electric. 

He combined his talents in both teaching and business by providing many of his students with internships at Quantum Magnetics.

The assistance he received throughout his schooling inspired him to pay forward the aid which had allowed him to be successful by supporting future generations of scientists.

In 1998, he and his wife Joan founded the Burnett Family Charitable Foundation to promote students conducting physics and environmental science research. The foundation instituted several awards that have continued to fund students’ academic pursuits and provide growth opportunities even after Burnett’s passing in February 2021.

“As the second-generation team of the Burnett Family Charitable Foundation, we are eager to engage in and perpetuate the legacy established by Lowell and Joan Burnett,” said Jiraporn “Nui” Rehfuss. “We are committed to honoring their vision and values by continuing to support initiatives that align with their lifelong dedication to education and technological advancement.”

One of these awards is the Lowell Burnett Endowed Award in Physics, which typically supports one exceptional undergraduate or graduate physics student annually. This year, however, the foundation extended the award to three students: Undergraduate student Dilon Suliman and graduate students Joe Garbarino and Nicholas Casteloes. In addition, they generously increased the award amount, bestowing each student with $10,000 to cover expenditures from tuition and laboratory fees to research-related expenses.

“The Lowell Burnett Award means a lot to our student recipients and this year, we are thrilled that the endowment was extended so that we could honor three of our stellar students,” said Usha Sinha, Physics department chair. “This award is a great recognition of their hard work and commitment to research, and also assists them financially as they prepare to graduate.”

Going forward, the award will continue to support three students annually. Learn more about this year’s recipients and what this award means to them below.

Dilon Suliman
Undergraduate physics student

Suliman’s research focuses on understanding why solid-state defect states in hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) are optically active with spin properties. He greatly contributed to the concept of spin 1 properties of boron vacancy defect in h-BN while working with a group of undergraduate and graduate students in Sanjay Behura’s lab. He co-authored a manuscript titled “Hexagonal Boron Nitride Photonic Quantum Simulator: Prelude to Spin and Photonic Qubits” which is currently under review.

“It is a great honor to have been chosen for the Lowell Burnett Award, and I would not be where I am today without my friends and family's support during my academic journey. This acknowledgment strengthens my resolve to continue pushing myself and inspires me to reach even greater heights,” said Suliman.

Joe Garbarino
Physics graduate student

Garbarino is working on a project investigating optical properties of nano-layered epsilon-near-zero metamaterials. This work provides an experimental and theoretical understanding of an intriguing class of metamaterials. From a broad perspective, this research project has the potential to provide a unique photonic material based on a nano-layered structure for the future fabrication of ultrafast LEDs and laser devices with deep-subwavelength dimensions for a variety of applications, from optical communications to biological metamaterial-based imaging.

“I am honored to receive such an award! This award will allow me to travel and present my research at future Physics conferences, and hopefully progress my field,” said Garbarino.

Nicholas Casteloes
Physics graduate student

Casteloes is investigating and optimizing spatially fractionated radiation therapy (SFRT) parameters for stimulating an immune response to cancer. Compared to standard radiation therapy, which irradiates the entire tumor volume, SFRT delivers targeted doses to specific areas, resulting in less damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Studying this approach in 3D models with cancer and immune cells can help us develop safer and more effective cancer treatment options using SFRT.

“Receiving the Lowell Burnett Award marks not just the culmination of my master's research, but also the exciting possibilities that lie ahead. I am deeply grateful for this recognition, as it supports my continued training in medical physics, enabling me to pursue residency programs and take certification exams,” said Casteloes.

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