Department of Physics hosts Research Experience for Undergraduates, utilizing hands-on research
Earlier this summer, the Department of Physics hosted a 10-week Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program for seven students from universities across the United States.
The REU event was led by faculty in the Center for Neutrino Physics (CNP) and focused on neutrino physics and provided professional development to student participants through collaboration with the Virginia Tech Office of Undergraduate Research and the National Science Foundation, according to program head Camillo Mariani.
“With experiments covering a broad range of energies and at different stages of development, the CNP provided the opportunity for students to gain experience in all aspects of experimental particle physics, from conceptual detector design, sensitivity studies, hardware development and construction, to simulation, software development and data analysis,” said Mariani, an associate professor of physics and director of the Kimballton Underground Research Facility (KURF) in Ripplemead, Virginia, near the West Virginia state line.
“All of our REU students had the opportunity to combine lab work or simulation with data analysis.”
Among the participants was Jessica Christian, a junior from the University of Maryland Baltimore College. She was one of several students to travel to the Kimballton lab and work underground. “Working with Dr. Tommy O’Donnell, I helped to integrate a muon screening veto into a high-purity germanium radiation detector – that is, I used the muon detector to screen for erroneous data in the radiation detector,” she said. “It was a lot of hands-on work with a bit of coding, too, and I found it to be a great time.”
She said, “My favorite moment was installing the muon detector. We worked inside a limestone mine called KURF because the layers of rock insulated the radiation detector from background data, and it was a beautiful place. Installation came toward the end of the summer, after we’d carefully analyzed and optimized the muon detector at the Virginia Tech campus, and seeing it put in at last was highly rewarding.”
Added Stephanie Toole, a senior at California State University, Northridge: “My favorite moment was when the veto actually worked! It was very exciting to have it finally working and doing what we wanted it to do. … In the future my goal is to combine my love for science with my passion for improving the quality of life of others. I hope to go to graduate school next year to work toward this goal.”
During the program’s last week, students prepared a final scientific report on the research performed , as well as a poster. The Physics department hosted a poster presentation and reception on July 26, and the students also presented their posters at the Summer Research Symposium, organized by the Virginia Tech Office of Undergraduate Research on Aug.1.
“We emphasized that the ability to communicate one’s scientific research is an important aspect of the scientific process: it is not enough to have good ideas or excellent results, these must be presented well, so the scientific community can appreciate and understand those results,” Mariani said.
He added that the department will keep in touch with students via updated newsletters and social media and through the REU physics website that will list past student work and future opportunities. “This will give the students the possibility of seeing the impact of their work and make them feel part of a group,” Mariani said.