APS News

Undergraduate Awards Promote Student Participation at DNP Meeting

NSF Assistant Director Michael Turner (in red shirt) chats with CEU participants at an ice cream social during the DNP meeting in Maui.
Photo credit: Warren Rogers
NSF Assistant Director Michael Turner (in red shirt) chats with CEU participants at an ice cream social during the DNP meeting in Maui.

Last September about 75 undergraduates were able to mix the pleasure of attending a nuclear physics conference with the business of hanging out on the beach in Hawaii.

The students were in Maui attending the 2005 Division of Nuclear Physics meeting as part of the Conference Experience for Undergraduates (CEU). Each year the CEU program brings between 70 and 90 undergraduates to the DNP meeting. The students, who have done research in nuclear physics, present their work at a special undergraduate poster session.

CEU draws applications from students around the c ountry. These applications are reviewed by a committee, and about half receive travel and lodging awards. Funding for the CEU awards is provided by the NSF and DOE. Even those students who don’t receive awards are often able to attend, with help from their advisors. For many of the students, the DNP meeting is the first professional conference they attend, and their first time presenting their research.

In September 2005 the DNP meeting was held in Maui as a joint meeting with the Japanese Physical Society [see APS News, January 2005]. In addition to the American students, 16 Japanese students attended. There was a good exchange between American and Japanese students, said CEU organizer Warren Rogers of Westmont College. “It was really a historic opportunity.”

CEU is more than just getting the students to present their research, said Rogers. Each year the CEU includes several activities especially for undergrads, including two special nuclear physics seminars presented at an advanced undergraduate level. Other events for the students included a reception, an ice cream social, and a graduate school information session, at which representatives from several universities and laboratories met with the students to discuss graduate school opportunities.

The students are full participants in the meeting, and are encouraged to attend as many of the regular sessions as they can.

“I felt like I could go to any talk I wanted, and felt privileged to have that opportunity to be in the company of great research scientists,” said Fatima Mahmood, a CEU participant from Union College. “I did attend several talks in the regular program. I enjoyed hearing about modern research in nuclear physics, and even when I couldn't understand a lot of the talks, I was glad to find certain terms and ideas were familiar to me through my own experience in research and from my studies in college.”

Several 2005 CEU students said that the opportunity to present their work in the poster session was the most valuable part of the meeting.

“People were interested and asked interesting questions, so that was good,” said Andrew Ratkiewicz of Indiana University at South Bend.

“It was very interesting and helpful to have other physicists looking at my work and ask me new questions. It definitely inspired me to further research these unexpected questions,” said Laura Stiles of the University of Kansas.

“I had a lot of positive comments about my research. One group thought it was very impressive that I could get the project done in one summer, and another thought the ideas behind it were very interesting,” said Daniel Passmore, a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Scientists at the meeting have been very impressed with the students’ research, said Rogers. “They are amazed at the quality of the undergraduate work. The students find out that their research is truly valued. I think that is very motivational for them.”

“Numerous DNP colleagues have also expressed sincere appreciation for the energy and enthusiasm the students bring to the meeting, and several have reported that meeting the students and attending the CEU poster session is for them one of the highlights of the meeting,” said Rogers.

Rogers began running the CEU program in 1998 after he noticed that few undergraduates attended the DNP meetings. Many undergrads had participated in research at their universities or during a summer program, but hadn’t had the chance to present their work at a professional conference. Rogers also wanted to encourage greater retention of talented undergrads in the field of nuclear physics.

Some of the 2005 CEU students say they plan to continue to study nuclear physics, while others have interests in different fields. They were certainly glad to have had the chance to attend the meeting.

“I can't believe what wonderful opportunities physics has opened up for me,” said Mahmood. Beverly Lau, a CEU participant from Reed College said, “If becoming a nuclear physicist means a free trip to Maui once every five years–count me in!”

Rogers would like to encourage other APS units will try something similar to CEU. “Some APS units do have some undergrad involvement, but nothing on this scale,” said Rogers. “I’ve hoped that other divisions would become interested in doing something like this. The success (of CEU) within the nuclear physics community can’t be overstated.”

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff