Baylor Astrophysics Center Provides Undergrad Research Experiences

  • News Photo 3654
    James Creel, of Navasota and University of Texas-Arlington, makes his presentation.
  • News Photo 3653
    Patrick Wilkerson, of Clarksville, Tenn. and Austin Peay State University, makes his presentation.
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    Sarah Smith (left), of Martin, Ky. and Morehead State University, and Hallie Graves, of Austin and Rhodes College, present their research on pulsing white dwarf stars.
  • News Photo 3655
    Spectators watch student researchers' presentations.
  • News Photo 3658
    Dr. Truell Hyde, vice provost for research and CASPER director listens to a presentation.
Aug. 1, 2006

by Meghan Merchant, student newswriter

Undergraduates from colleges and universities around the country took advantage of an uncommon opportunity this summer to conduct cutting-edge research alongside professors during Baylor University's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, funded by the National Science Foundation and Baylor's Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER).

The outstanding undergraduates, chosen each year from an applicant pool of more than 100, receive a $3,500 stipend for the 10-week program, along with housing and a travel allowance.

The undergraduates work in the labs, do calculations, collect data and work side by side with professors in Baylor's physics department and CASPER. At the end of the summer, participants are expected to produce a research-grade quality paper, a presentation and a research poster. Programs such as Baylor's REU reinforce the university's commitment to providing its undergraduates with an excellent education while moving forward into research.

"This year, we have three papers going to an international peer review journal that all have students' names on them" because of the work and contributions they made, said Dr. Truell S. Hyde, vice provost for research at Baylor and CASPER director.

CASPER's summer research program is not just limited to undergraduates. Its Research Experiences for Teachers program allows elementary, middle school or high school teachers to participate in research or curriculum development. Hyde said the goal of the program is to bring the excitement of physics research back into the high school setting, so teachers can encourage students to take science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses when they enroll in college. CASPER pays the teachers up to two months of their annual salary during their eight weeks at Baylor.

Through both programs, Hyde hopes "to encourage really bright students to continue on past the undergraduate degree and obtain a graduate degree in physics."

As the number of students pursuing doctoral degrees in physics has begun to decline in the U.S., the goals and mission of the REU and RET program are more important than ever - not just for Baylor, but for the nation's economy and national security.

Hyde noted the many of the department's best graduate students have been recruited from CASPER's summer program. Many of the students and teachers stay in touch well after the summer ends. But beyond that, the program "does what Baylor does best, which is research," Hyde said.

"We include undergraduates in our research endeavors, which I don't think a lot of people do," Hyde said, referring to Baylor's progress with Baylor 2012, the university's 10-year vision, and its aspirations of becoming a top research institution still committed to undergraduate education.

Students participating in this summer's REU and their research focuses are listed below.

•Matthew Benesh, Waco, Texas, Baylor University - complex (dusty) plasmas - energy levels of Coulomb clusters

•Michael Freed, Yorktown, Va., Northern Arizona University - complex (dusty) plasmas - coagulation optical properties of fractal dust aggregates

•Ryan Hayes, Milton, Wash., Point Loma Nazarene University - complex (dusty) plasmas - charging and coagulation of fractal dust aggregates

•Patrick Wilkerson, Clarksville, Tenn., Austin Peay State University - hypervelocity impacts - analysis of PZT data for a Whipple shield dust detector

•James Creel, Navasota, Texas, UT Arlington - complex (dusty) plasmas - analysis of Debye length of dust crystal with changing DC bias

•Alex Price, Oakdale, Calif., Point Loma Nazarene University - experimental surface physics

•Justin Janak, Victoria, Texas, Texas State Technical College - complex (dusty) plasmas - instrumentation for a GEC rf reference cell

•Jason Caravalho, Austin, Texas, Texas State Technical College - complex (dusty) plasmas - characterization of reference cell with S100 nanoprobe

•Hallie Graves, Austin, Texas, Rhodes College - observational astronomy - pulsing white dwarf stars

•Sarah Smith, Martin, Ky., Morehead State University - observational astronomy - pulsing white dwarf stars

•Ksenia Terekhova, Moscow, Russia, University of Louisville - experimental surface physics

•Jessica Norcia, Alpharetta, Ga., Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - Lattice quantum chromodynamics

•Josh Qualls, Danville, Ky., Centre College - Lattice quantum chromodynamics

For more information contact Truell Hyde at 710-3763.

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