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REU Program Looks To Bring Students

REU group photo 2018

 

The Oklahoma State University Physics Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) Program is in the business of making new Cowboys.

If you need proof, just look at Calvin Ainsworth and Jacob Crosby – two of seven students who came to Stillwater last year to be a part of the program – who will be starting class at OSU in the fall.

You can also talk to Lucas Blake – who attended the program last summer as well.

“[REU] is a great opportunity. It’s a great résumé builder. It’s a great way to make a great cohort, make new friends, and learn a lot about that university,” Blake said.

The ten-week National Science Foundation program spans over the summer and brings undergraduate students from across the nation to Stillwater. The program includes a $5,000 stipend, attendance at a national professional meeting and the participants’ travel, housing and meals covered.

“The program is necessary because it gives students who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to do research to be involved in research,” Dr. Mario Borunda, one of the co-directors of the program, said.

“It applies to universities that don’t have research facilities and it also helps us recruit some of those students. We want some of those students to come back to OSU as grad students,” he said.

Which is exactly what Blake is considering now.

“From last summer, I decided I’m really interested in going [into] photonics as a career. So I’m actually considering OSU for graduate school,” Blake said.

Which is quite different from where he was before the program.

“I had actually never heard of photonics before I came to OSU this summer,” he said. “I had originally talked to the physics REU and I ended up in photonics. I didn’t know the subset of optics that was photonics beforehand.”

Blake was definitely given an introduction though.

Each student in the program goes through eight-hour workdays in the lab working in fields such as condensed matter physics, atomic and molecular optics and photonics, and high energy physics.

Participants also get to attend multiple workshops including how to apply to grad school, what is required for taking the GRE and finding the best way to present data. 

“I didn’t have a thorough background in optimal electronics or anything photonics related,” Blake said. “I used a lot of stuff I learned in quantum mechanics and other undergraduate level physics courses and I could see the transition between that and the graduate level courses involving photonics. And the stuff I learned there I got to work from scratch.”

REU Research Symposium

 

This is one experience Borunda believes all REU participants should have in their time in the program.

“[They] get a research project from start to finish. So, they can see if they enjoy research or not,” Borunda said.

“In grad school, you go to classes, but your main accomplishment is to do some original research,” he said.

Borunda also realizes that for students who do fall in love with the research in the program that there’s also a chance for the student to fall in love with the place they are researching.

To help participants get acquintanted with each other and their surroundings, the weekends are saved for fellowshipping and interacting in a more social environment. Participants, as well as faculty and graduate student mentors, enjoyed a picnic the opening weekend, intramural softball as well as visiting the zoo and National Cowboy Heritage Museum throughout the ten weeks.

At the close of the program, there is Research Symposium where high school science teachers, as well as physics faculty, judge the participants’ work on how well they can explain the research they’ve been working on to a science teacher.

Blake, Crosby, and Ainsworth were given the People’s Choice, Best Poster, and Overall Presentation awards respectively at the symposium.

“I feel like an all-around better student after leaving [the program,]” Blake said.

“Working with the graduate level content and stuff like that, it’s the hardest things I’ve probably worked with. But after thinking at such a high level all summer, it made everything else seem easier.”

For more information on the Summer 2019 program, visit physicsreu.okstate.edu.