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Visiting students Jamie McNeir and Gabriel Mas work with a state-of-the-art electron microscope at the Princeton Materials Institute. They are among 21 students from across the country participating in the institute's annual Research Experience for Undergraduates program.

photo: Ruth Stevens

 

Visiting students gain research experience in Princeton labs

by Steven Schultz
Spending the summer in one of Princeton University's state-of-the-art microscopy labs, visiting students Jamie McNeir and Gabriel Mas are making many discoveries. They are learning how to use electron microscopes and are investigating the atomic-level properties of gold and silicon wafers that could be used in miniature electronics.

   

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But the main discovery they are making is that they enjoy research and want to pursue careers in it. McNeir and Mas are two of 21 college students from across the country who are participating in the annual Research Experience for Undergraduates program run by the Princeton Materials Institute and the Princeton Center for Complex Materials. The program allows students who attend colleges with limited research capabilities to work in labs of Princeton scientists for the summer.

"This experience has given me a chance to see what research is really like," said McNeir, who will be a sophomore at Prairie View A&M University in Texas. "Before it was a thought. Now it's more tangible, something I've really done and want to pursue."

McNeir and Mas are working in the materials institute's Imaging and Analysis Center in collaboration with center director Nan Yao. They are using one of only a few microscopes in the country that can make nanometer-sized cuts in the material being examined. They are using the instrument to examine properties of thin layers of gold laminated to silicon wafers that were prepared by fellow student Derek Nankivl.

Mas said that, in addition to technical skills, he is gaining a broad introduction to the field of nanotechnology. "That's not something most students get the opportunity to do," said Mas, who will be a junior at the University of Massachusetts.

Students in the program build relationships with Princeton faculty members and graduate students who advise them on preparing for and applying to graduate school. Throughout the summer they attend talks by leading scientists and participate in discussion groups and a workshop on science ethics. In many of these events, the students are joined by participants in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program run by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

In the last week of the program, which concludes Friday, Aug. 8, the students write up their results and present them as they would at a scientific conference.

The program, which includes 17 participating faculty members, is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation. It is led by Jay Benziger, professor of chemical engineering, and coordinated by staff member Soonoo Aria.