Senior Spotlight: Jayden Francois

Jayden Francois Senior Spotlight graphic.

Jayden Francois was looking for two things in a university – a place where he could conduct research and a spot that would prepare him for a Ph.D. He found both at the University of Missouri.

“The biggest thing I knew I was going to need was a place where I could expand on my research interests,” said Francois, who is from Kansas City, Missouri. “I also knew from a young age that I was going to eventually be gunning for a Ph.D. Mizzou seemed like the perfect place for me to participate in research and ready myself for a Ph.D. Plus, it was close to home, which I thought would be really nice.”

Like thousands of students across the globe, Francois was prepared to enter his first year of college under some uncertainty due to the pandemic. Francois was dealing with personal tragedy, too. His father was fatally shot in a robbery just a couple months after Francois decided to become a Tiger.

“My dad played a big role in my decision to come to Mizzou; he just had a good feeling about it,” Francois said. “When he passed, everything changed overnight. I felt like I had things planned and knew my dad was going to be there for me. It all happened so quickly. It was obviously rough. Mizzou was very supportive. They assured me that I could take my time and when I was ready, I could come to campus and chase my dreams.”

Francois has spent his time at MU pursuing his passions. He will graduate with a physics degree – with an emphasis in astronomy – as well as a mathematics minor. He’s been able to do plenty of research and earned a number of awards throughout his four years. Francois spent time in New Zealand, too, through study abroad.

“Reflecting on everything I’ve accomplished is definitely bittersweet,” Francois said. “My dad knew I was going to be able to do this, so it’s tough to not have him here. He always had my back.”

Francois said his parents always encouraged him to carve his own path, which is something he focused on at Mizzou. His research was related to tidal disruption event (TDE) host galaxies, which occur when stellar materials fall toward the center of a black hole. His work specifically focused on galaxies located in the green valley.

“A galaxy has three life stages,” Francois said. “For the blue cloud stage, the galaxy is very young and vibrant and creating a lot of stars. In the red sequence, there aren’t as many stars being formed. The green valley is the transition stage from very active to very passive.

“Tidal disruption event host galaxies are very hard to find and identify. There is a catalog of a half a million galaxies, and out of those, we have a collection of only 43 TDEs. Out of that group, there are only 14 I have complete data on. It’s really interesting work for sure.”

Like a lot of children, Francois grew up with an interest in space. He also enjoyed a good mystery.

“I loved learning about planets, stars and black holes,” Francois said. “There something so mysterious about it all, which was really fascinating to me. With physics, there are plenty of mysteries to go around. Having a career where you dive into those big questions, that’s the dream right there.”

Francois knew he wanted to expand on those interests in college. The Brazeal Scholarship at MU helped him do just that. A scholarship created in 2004 by Jim and Cathy Brazeal, the award helped Francois with his research endeavors and gave him the opportunity to study abroad in New Zealand.

“The Brazeal Scholarship was an incredible program for me,” Francois said. “Jim and Cathy are wonderful people and were very supportive.

“My study abroad experience definitely stands out, and was made possible, in part, because of the scholarship. It was a wonderful opportunity. I’ve been in the Midwest my entire life and had never seen an ocean before. Through this program, I was able to swim in an ocean. It was surreal for sure.”

While Francois was active across campus, he was also very involved in the Honors College.

“I loved Honors because it gave me the chance to explore,” Francois said. “I love my physics, but I’m also interested in other subjects, like history, for example. The Honors College allowed me to gain knowledge in several areas. Plus, I was able to connect with students who were also doing really interesting research. It was fun to talk about our work.”

After commencement, Francois said he is still focused on pursuing a Ph.D. related to physics. He’s currently searching for the right fit.

“Exploring the unknown – that’s everything to me,” Francois said. “I’m actively trying to find what we don’t know, and that’s the coolest thing in the world to me. I’m excited to continue this type of work, and I’m thankful to Mizzou for allowing me to chase my dreams.”