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Summer research programs intrigue diverse students

By: Gayathrini Premawardhana,  Cornell Chronicle
Wed, 08/08/2018

Visiting students representing the next generation of physicists got a taste of life as a researcher during a pair of eight-week summer programs hosted by the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator-based Sciences and Education (CLASSE).

The Summer Research for Community College Students (SRCCS) program and the Summer Undergraduate Research in Science and Engineering (SUnRiSE) program drew students from several community colleges and from minority-serving institutions. Both programs drew to a close with a poster session Aug. 3 highlighting the students’ research endeavors.

Students’ work ranged across physics topics and included the development and construction of accelerators and their use in research, X-ray science, fuel cells, photocathodes and telescopes.

The SUnRiSE program partners mentors from the students’ home institutions, resulting in a collaboration between faculty from Cornell and other colleges. Students and mentors work side by side in research projects, culminating in a shared learning experience.

“The whole point of this is to give an opportunity to the students that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” said Carl Franck, associate professor of physics and a mentor in the program.

In the SRCCS program, students work with scientists at CLASSE as well as technical staff members involved in other aspects of the lab. The program caters to both students who intend to use their community college degree and those who transfer to a four-year program after graduation. “We can meet both kinds of needs this way,” Franck said.

Students took advantage of the many scientific research resources on campus. Topher Flynn, a student from the Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, has learned specific skills: He learned about the clean room at the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility while building microchips for the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source.

“[The project] is helping me get more interested in micro and nanofabrication,” Flynn said. “I’ve done some of that in the past at my home university, and I’ve always been interested in getting into it.”

The program is not all research, though. Students participate in outreach activities, learning how to better present science and technology to the public. Nkeiru Ubadike from Schenectady (N.Y.) County Community College presented a radio she made to young children at Ithaca’s Sciencenter.

“I think it’s about bringing in the next generation of scientists,” she said. “We take it for granted that we’re here, doing research and all kinds of complicated stuff, but there’s people we need to bring up with us. Even something small could spark someone’s interest.”

The programs encourage students to explore their scientific interests while performing a research project. And for many, this firsthand experience opens their eyes to a world of opportunity.

“I’ve definitely got a feel for what the whole community of research is like,” said Thomas Berggren, an SRCCS student from Genesee Community College in Batavia, New York.

“Before coming to this, I thought particle accelerators were only used just to smash stuff together,” said Robert Cook, from Fort Lewis College. “I had no idea they were used to produce X-rays. I might actually end up going into accelerator physics because of this internship.”

SRCCS is funded by the National Science Foundation; SUnRiSE is funded by CLASSE.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.