Passion and purpose: Physics student combines his love of music and science at UAB

A UAB physics student is combining his love of music with the complexity of science to one day change the world through acoustics.

inside William Lawrence Davis Commencement 007 3992Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-TurnerFor musician and University of Alabama at Birmingham student William Davis, navigating his collegiate career and plans for the future started off uncertain.

“I spent three years studying engineering at another university; but as time went on, it became clear that engineering was a field I settled in and was not passionate about,” Davis said. “I switched to marketing, but the drive still was not there.”

However, while being in college at the time was not lucrative to Davis’ success, it was there the Fairhope, Alabama, native discovered his passion for music.

“I began traveling, going to different concerts every weekend in Atlanta and Birmingham, and I knew I found something I was passionate about,” Davis said.

After taking a break from school to pursue music in spring 2020, Davis moved to Atlanta for a year and launched Refocused Records, a startup focused on the positive benefits of music in its many genres and forms.

The now 26-year-old moved to Birmingham in the summer of 2021. After working for some time, Davis soon realized the right college education is a useful tool in anyone’s pocket.

“I was making money, but I began to realize another level of professionalism was needed to elevate, so I began to reconsider obtaining my degree,” Davis said. “A degree could only help take me to the next level in this field. The problem was finding out what specifically I wanted to invest my time back into.”

Davis decided he would attend UAB. Upon researching his options at UAB, Davis met with Renato Camata, Ph.D., undergraduate program director in the Department of Physics.

“The department was so welcoming when I met with them, Dr. Camata specifically,” Davis said. “The way he discussed physics so passionately reminded me of how I felt about music, and because of that conversation with him I decided to major in physics officially.”

Deciding to pursue a degree in physics, Davis was accepted into the Accelerated Bachelor’s/Master’s Program and began his UAB journey in spring 2022. Through the ABM in Physics, students can take courses that simultaneously count for both their undergraduate and graduate programs.

inside 2William Lawrence Davis Commencement 002 3979Photography: Jennifer Alsabrook-Turner“I went from getting C’s and D’s to straight A’s here at UAB, so it’s a testimony to what happens when you are not only learning but passionate about what you are learning,” Davis said. “Dr. Camata helped me realize that there was a beauty in science, and I’m grateful he introduced me to this field with that perspective.”

Davis was elected as the treasurer of the Society of Physics Students and was inducted into Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Honor Society, which allowed him to fully experience UAB. Davis received presidential honors in spring 2022 and 2023 and placed third in the spring research expo poster presentation. Davis also is one of the founding members of the UAB Astronomy Club.

This past summer, Davis was selected for the unique opportunity to research out of the country.

Under principal investigator, Andrei Stanishevsky, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Physics, select undergraduate and graduate students are given the opportunity to conduct research abroad under the National Science Foundation-funded International Research Experiences for Students.

“We were stationed in Poland, and there I worked on using plasma and nano fibers to convert greenhouse gases under Dr. Stanishevsky,” Davis said. The opportunity was amazing, and getting to experience different parts of the world for two months was definitely an experience of a lifetime.”

Davis has spent his recent semesters in the lab of Stanishevsky, conducting research on how electric wind varies with electrode shape and voltage, and in the lab of Camata, working on the experimental setup and fabrication of nanoelectromechanical resonators.

“Think of it as a ‘nano-drum,’” he said. “These are all very minuscule components that allow us to conduct material phase transition investigations, and this will be the research I continue working on when I return to complete my master’s in the spring.”

Davis described the dedication required of him to take on a heavier course load this semester and to do so while working in two labs and running his business.

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“It’s a challenge to balance chasing your dreams and aligning it with your passion,” Davis said. “I have been fortunate enough to get closer to that alignment here at UAB.”

Davis will graduate from UAB on Dec. 8 with a degree in physics and a minor in mathematics and will return in the spring to focus on completing his master’s degree in physics.

Davis expressed wanting to travel the world solving acoustical problems using his knowledge of physics through his record company.

“I ultimately want to shape the world with music,” Davis said. “But thanks to UAB, I learned that there is more than one way I can go about doing that.”