Uppsala Student of the Year has flair for nuclear physics and coding

2023-09-05

He loves physics and solving small, everyday problems through programming. The Uppsala Student of the Year is 24-year-old Sigfrid Stjärnholm, who is now putting his student years behind him (though not Uppsala) and preparing to contribute to society using his knowledge of nuclear physics and computing.

Sigfrid Stjärnholm
After a full day of work at the computer, Sigfrid Stjärnholm, a newly graduated physics student, heads to the forest. “I enjoy the peace and quiet.” Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

It was during a lunch break at his summer job in Boden that he got the call. The Vice-Chancellor called to report that Sigfrid Stjärnholm would be the recipient of the Anders Wall Foundation’s Uppsala Student of the Year scholarship and SEK 150,000.

“It was an incredible feeling, I almost didn't believe it was true. Was it a prank? It felt like something my friends could have done to joke around with me,” says Stjärnholm, 24, a recent Master’s student in physics.

A few weeks later, the news has finally sunk in. He is very grateful and hopes that the award can inspire others.

“It feels great for me as an individual to be recognised in this way. It’s also great for Norrbotten in general and my home town of Boden in particular. The fact that I, from the small town of Boden, have received this award can inspire other young people. It shows that studying hard pays off.”

Sophisticated nuclear physicist at a new job

Personally, it was his interest in physics that led him to continue studying the Bachelor’s programme at Uppsala University after secondary school. Last spring he completed his Master’s degree. His studies went fairly smoothly, largely because he enjoyed it so much. He is convinced that more people could be attracted to the subject.

“Many people are afraid of physics, perhaps because they were scarred at primary school where they felt it was too boring or difficult. But I think more people would find it fun, especially if they went into the ‘weirder’ physics such as quantum mechanics or string theory.”

Personally, he has become interested in particle physics and nuclear physics. His degree project examined ‘small modular reactors (SMRs)’, which are small nuclear power plants that should be easier to produce and more flexible than the ones we have today.

Even though Stjärnholm has spent the last year immersed in the world of nuclear physics, he is very nuanced when it comes to the question of nuclear power.

“We are seeing a growing need for energy which has to be solved somehow. I don’t think nuclear power alone is the solution, nor wind or solar power alone. We cannot box ourselves into one solution. Instead, the disadvantages of one system can be offset by the advantages of the other. It is a shame that the debate has become so polarised, when there should be more cooperation in terms of the different types of energy.”

And that’s what he hopes to help promote this autumn as he starts his new job at Vattenfall, where he will mainly work on simulations and calculations related to nuclear power. He is also looking forward to combining his knowledge of physics with his other great interest: programming.

Loves solving everyday problems

Alongside his studies, Stjärnholm has run a programming company. This interest in coding has also been reflected in his day-to-day life.

“I love solving small, everyday problems. If my partner is doing something in Excel that takes maybe five minutes, I can spend six hours programming and automating the process. But then next time it will be super fast!”

For example, the desire to programme has given rise to “Marskalk” (Marshal), a system that can be used by the student nations and other organisers to keep track of seating arrangements and special diets during sittings.

Sigfrid in the middle of the atrium in new Ångström.
How does he manage?! “My friends say I have too much energy. When something comes up, I try to deal with it as soon as possible. I like ticking things off a to-do list.” Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Reflecting on maximised study period

When Stjärnholm talks about his years at university, it’s clear that he maximised his time there. He worked at a student nation, got into rafting and served as a student representative. In addition, he worked as a research assistant and teaching assistant, as well as conducted some research himself.

“I’ve enjoyed studying, but now I'm at the point where I want to take what I've learned and contribute to society and get into the workforce.”

His new job at Vattenfall is in Solna, but he is not particularly keen on moving to Stockholm. Instead, he hopes to use the scholarship to save up for an apartment in Uppsala and give life a little boost.

“I’m not ready to leave Uppsala. I really like it here, and for someone who comes from the global metropolis that is Boden, it feels like a fairly large city to settle in.”

More news