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Surf's Up in NIST Physics Lab

Summer Students Can Catch a Wave, Trap an Atom or Build a Better Dosimeter

Undergraduates and graduating college seniors in science and engineering are invited to apply for 1995 summer research fellowships in physics at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The SURF, or Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, awards fellowships to about 20 students each summer for 10 to 12 weeks of research in diverse areas of the NIST Physics Laboratory. The program was designed to encourage female and minority science students to pursue advanced degrees in science or engineering.

"It was an idea that we hoped would address some of the issues of lack of diversity in the physics work force," says SURF program coordinator David King. In 1993, its first year, the SURF program gave fellowships to 20 students from seven universities with large women and minority enrollments. This year 20 students from 11 universities received awards.

Since the program's start, approximately half of the 40 fellowship recipients have been women. Each summer about 40 percent of the students have been African American, and about 40 percent have been Hispanic. "Given the significant lack of diversity in the present physics work force, we will aggressively seek out competitive students from under-represented groups or persons with disabilities," King says.

"The overall goal is to create a more diverse pool of young talent in the physical sciences, predominantly physics, that may ultimately join the work force," says Katharine Gebbie, director of the NIST Physics Laboratory. "We believe that giving them a hands-on experience working with our top scientists may stimulate them to pursue graduate research in physics and that ultimately they may be more interested in careers in science and engineering than they might have been without this experience."

During their stay at NIST, SURF students are paired with research advisers throughout the NIST Physics Laboratory based on the students' background and interests. Students work with NIST researchers on projects from radiation biophysics to solar radiometry. For example, some projects explored measuring molecular forces with optical tweezers, using sucrose as a radiation dosimeter, and measuring changes in ultraviolet radiation from the sun at ground level.

The program also includes about one week of study before reporting to NIST in Gaithersburg, Md., an opportunity to give a seminar about the SURF research experience and participation in a scientific conference.

Each SURF fellowship includes a $3,600 stipend as well as housing and transportation. The program, supported in part by the Physics Division of the National Science Foundation through its Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program, encourages participation of minorities and women but is open to all undergraduate U.S. citizens interested in a career in physics. NIST and participating colleges also share costs of the SURF program.

SURF recipients say the experience gives them an appreciation of the breadth of career options available in physics. "You don't have to just narrow your career to teaching if you don't want to because there are many other alternatives, like working in a place like this which I think is very interesting and very challenging," says Olga Batista, a 1993 SURF student from Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico.

"Science is a thing you have to live and see," says Maria Elisa Garcia, a 1993 SURF student from the University of Puerto Rico. "It's not only the things you read in books; you have to live it. It's a real thing."

Students receive SURF awards through nominations from their college or university. Each school may nominate two candidates plus one alternate. Applicants must submit one signed original and two copies of their proposal along with the federal Grant Application Standard Form 424. Applications should be submitted to David King, NIST Physics Laboratory, B266 Physics Building, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-0001, and must be received by Feb. 1, 1995.

For more information on the SURF program, contact David King at the above address or phone: (301) 975-2369, fax: (301) 975-3038, email: king [at] (via Internet).

As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.

Released September 23, 1994, Updated November 27, 2017