Vicari's Journey to Continue Family Legacy in Medical Physics

undergraduate student Matthew Vicari
My gym got a new atlas stone (a big sphere of concrete) that looks an awful lot like Mars, so I figure it would be a great fit for the Physics and Astronomy department for me to lift up the "Mars Stone" on my shoulder.

Student Spotlight with physics undergraduate student Matthew Vicari.

Why did you choose LSU?

“I am born and bred Baton Rouge. I take a lot of pride in my state. LSU also offers one of the best medical physics programs in the country. Choosing LSU was the easiest choice I’ve made.”

Where did you draw your motivation to pursue a physics degree?

"I knew I wanted to pursue something in the medical field (as many in my family have), but I was also interested in fields like electronics and computer science. Once I learned about the field of medical physics, I made my decision to start my journey at Baton Rouge Community College, and a few years later, here I am!"

What influenced your academic journey toward medical physics?

“My plan is to practice at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center here in Baton Rouge. My grandfather, Dr. David D. Kahn, was an oncologist and Board Member of Mary Bird Perkins (1973-84) and emeritus director, in addition to founding the **Hospice Foundation of Greater Baton Rouge. So, it seems natural for me to continue his legacy of providing the best cancer treatment and peace of mind to those suffering from this terrifying disease. The journey to becoming a medical physicist is a long and difficult path, but with the support of my professors, and being awarded the ‘Barbara and Barry Coon Physics & Astronomy Scholarship,’ I know it is a journey I will complete.”

PhD 1966 alumnus Barry Coon is a retired Vice President at Conoco Phillips. Coon and his wife, Barbara, set up a scholarship through the LSU Foundation to support physics students, with a preference given to students expressing an interest in applying their skills to a private sector career.

What is your greatest accomplishment so far (or what are you most proud of?)

“It has to be getting a high score on my nuclear science final exam. If you know Professor T. Gregory Guzik, you know he’s going to really test to see if you know what you’re talking about. That exam was a nightmare, and I went through a roller coaster of emotions on that one. I thought that exam would be the end of my physics journey, but thankfully persistence and stubbornness run in the Vicari family. It was a real David and Goliath moment for me!”

Do you have a particularly inspiring LSU professor/mentor or class?

Dr. Dana Browne is my idea of what a great professor is. He really wants the best for his students, and he is more than happy to talk your ears off about amateur radio and the weather ballooning program (LaACES). When I was completely overwhelmed by my LaACES project, he reached out with a helping hand, and offered some words of encouragement to keep me moving forward.”

What activities, clubs, research projects, etc. have you been involved in at LSU?

“I recently finished the LaACES program, led by Dr. Greg Guzik, which taught me invaluable skills in project management and computer science. Computer science is a critical skill for medical physics, because the field relies heavily on simulations to ensure patient safety and treatment effectiveness.” Read about the LaACES team’s latest activity.

How have you been adjusting to this new remote learning environment?

“It’s been very challenging having to make my house my learning environment. Nicholson Hall gives me a great place to study and do homework because it is free of distraction. I’ve had to make some drastic changes to my home environment so that I can stay focused on my schoolwork.”

What advice would you give current LSU physics students?

“If you are having trouble focusing at home, identify the biggest sources of distraction and get rid of them. My desktop PC was the biggest source of distraction for me (video games), so I disconnected it and put it away in my closet. I now only use my laptop and I sit in my living room instead of my bedroom while attending class or working on schoolwork.”

**The creation of Hospice Foundation of Greater Baton Rouge was the vision of founders Don Berlin, Dr. David Kahn, and Dr. David Lion. Mr. Berlin and Dr. Lion both suffered from terminal cancer. Wishing to pass-away at their homes, Mr. Berlin's and Dr. Lion's oncologist, Dr. Kahn, sought for the inception of Hospice Foundation of Greater Baton Rouge in 1984. Once the Foundation came into being, they hired a small staff consisting of a nurse and a social worker in order to commence providing for direct patient care.

Mimi LaValle

LSU Physics & Astronomy