For These Undergrads, Summertime Was Time for Condensed Matter Physics
Boston College and NSF support the undergraduate research experience
Office of News & Public Affairs
Chestnut Hill, Mass. (September 2009) – For a lot of people, summer is about baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. But for the 10 undergraduates who traveled across the country to spend two months working side-by-side with Boston College physicists, summer was more about phonon dispersion, electron density and k-space.
Physics faculty hosted the students through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which funds undergraduate participation in ongoing research projects at colleges and universities across the country.
In its second year, the BC program gives top students the chance to look at the real work and personal rewards of scientific investigation and discovery, said Professor and Physics Department Chairman Michael Naughton.
"When you learn by the book, everything is known," said Naughton. "But as you do real research, you realize how much is still unknown. I think it motivates kids to learn more, to go to graduate school. I see it every day. They are hungry. This gives them the important chance to come in and say they did it. The discovery is theirs."
Conor Schlick, a double major in math and physics who is entering his senior year at BC, put his skills to use determining phonon dispersions in graphite while working with Professor of Physics David Broido, an expert in theoretical solid state physics.
"This was my first experience having a project all to myself to work on," said Schlick, who used algorithms to develop a computer simulation to test theories about how atoms move within graphite. "We would meet everyday to look at the work. It was a great opportunity to learn how to do top-level research."
Bridget Salna, a physics major also entering her senior year at BC, worked with Professor Vidya Madhavan, an experimental physicist whose work focuses on superconducting materials. Salna created a computer program to analyze data from scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) measurements of electrons and their density.
"The program gave me great insight into what physics research is about and it made me think I want to go on to graduate school," said Salna. "Women are not as prevalent among physics faculty, so to be able to work with Professor Madhavan, who has worked to get to the top of her field, was another great experience."
The program is co directed by Research Associate Professor and Laboratory Director Andrzej Herczynski and Professor Michael Graf. Other student participants in the Summer 2009 REU program at Boston College included Daniel Benton, Morehead State College (KY), Chad Byers, Marietta College (OH), Christina Gennaoui, Rowan University (NJ), Alex Handin, Union College (NY), Thomas Hogan, Truman State University (MO), Catherine Marcoux, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NY), Derek Mendez, University of Texas, San Antonio, and Cara Regan, Washington & Lee University (VA).
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