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Two physics students spend summer on research projects

Kimberly Lukens (left) and Emilie Hoffman spent their summer doing physics research in Ohio and California. (Photo by Beth Spain)
Kimberly Lukens (left) and Emilie Hoffman spent their summer doing physics research in Ohio and California. (Photo by Beth Spain)

JACKSON, Tenn.Sept. 16, 2010 – Two Union University physics students returned to the classroom this fall with a wealth of experience gained from participating in research as undergraduates.

Emilie Huffman, a junior physics and math major, was chosen by the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program to conduct research at the University of California-Davis, while Kimberly Lukens, also a junior physics and math major, was selected by a program offered through the Department of Homeland Security to conduct research for the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton, Ohio.

“The (REU) program is looking for students with good foundation and problem solving skills,” Bill Nettles, chairman of the physics department, said, adding that the program is fairly competitive. Eligible students applied through the REU to work on specific research projects.

Huffman was accepted to five out of nine programs she applied for, a success rate she said surprised and encouraged her. In addition to the interest of the research, the draw of sunny California, a place she had not visited before, played a part in her decision to accept the offer to work on the research project at UC Davis.

Huffman’s job was to assist in researching the configuration of atoms on surfaces, using some of the leading equipment for such study. She said a class on condensed matter taught by Fonsie Guilaran, associate professor of physics at Union, laid the foundation for understanding the atomic research.

“(Guilaran’s class) was a great help,” Huffman said. “It’s what helped me get this REU in the first place.”

Lukens also spoke of the faculty as the most preparatory aspect of Union.

“They helped me to be prepared academically,” she said.

Lukens applied her physics and math knowledge to two projects — one researching the possibility of adding tracking abilities to current chemical detection technology, the other exploring the possibility of developing an unmanned area vehicle that could use magnetic field sensors to detect specific objects.

In addition to the experience and contacts they both gained, Huffman returned to Union with a paper on her research, which she had written and presented in California at the end of her summer program.

These two students were not the first physics majors to participate in REU or similar research programs. Union students have been participating in REU alone for several years.

Nettles said doing research is something that is encouraged in every major at Union, and is useful for students in their education outside the classroom.

“Education should be not only informative, but formative,” Nettles said.

By Samantha Adams (’13)

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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