Wooster Receives National Science Foundation Grant for Summer Research

Three-year, $300,000 grant will facilitate faculty-student collaborations in physics and chemistry

11 February, 2016 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Robust research will ramp up again this summer at The College of Wooster thanks to a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which will fund a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Site for physics and chemistry for the next three years.

REU sites are intended to give undergraduates and faculty an opportunity to work together on original, publishable research involving a broad range of materials science, physics, and chemistry projects. Wooster, which is nationally recognized for its commitment to mentored undergraduate research, began its REU site in 1994 in the physics department. The renewal of the grant will enable faculty to specifically target beginning students, many of which have completed just one year of college, and often from institutions where research opportunities are scarce. It will also encourage the full participation of women and underrepresented groups by providing a vibrant supportive environment. In addition, Wooster will partner with nearby two-year colleges to recruit students who might otherwise not major in a science or even complete college.

The faculty involved with the Wooster REU site have designed ongoing research programs that are both innovative and accessible to undergraduates. “Dedicated and individualized mentoring in the tools, techniques, and process of research trains and inspires young students to persist in science while contributing to publishable research,” says John Lindner, professor of physics at Wooster and principal investigator for the grant. “Each student takes ownership of an individual project, conducts original research, and becomes a practicing scientist through the research project. Students also benefit from making oral and poster presentations as well as written reports.

“The Wooster REU site will provide an environment for young students to learn the tools and techniques of scientific research that spans a broad range of fields including condensed matter, granular materials, nanowires, spatiotemporal pattern formation, light-emitting polymers, quantum optics, nonlinear dynamics, and astrophysics,” adds Lindner. “It also involves experimental, computational, and theoretical techniques.”

Research projects are designed so that even novice undergraduates can make significant scientific contributions. Student researchers are trained in research skills, including critical thinking, data analysis, and scientific writing. Past summer research has contributed to 32 scientific papers involving 54 undergraduate co-authors in such journals as Physical Review. Results have also been featured twice on the cover of the American Journal of Physics and in news stories in Physical Review Focus and Nature News.

With matching funds from The College of Wooster, the award will fund nine students for 10 weeks each summer. Since 1994, Wooster’s summer program, which is run by the physics department, has attracted students from 43 colleges or universities in 21 states, including California, Colorado, Oregon, Oklahoma, Texas, and North Carolina.

In addition to Lindner, Susan Lehman, associate professor of physics is the co-principal investigator. Also assisting are faculty advisors Cody Leary, assistant professor of physics; Niklas Manz, assistant professor of physics; and Paul Bonvallet, associate professor of chemistry.