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"Beyond the Lecture Hall"

Ogden Honors students apply their knowledge in the lab

It may feel like summer just ended, but we’re already looking ahead to the next one. That’s because it’s time for our science students to begin thinking about applying for Research Experiences for Undergraduates, or REUs, around the country. These opportunities allow for an immersive research experience that provides outstanding benefits for students who take advantage of them. Just ask Cindy Seghers, director of career development at the Ogden Honors College.

“REUs are considered science internships and provide students with an excellent opportunity to apply classroom knowledge in a university research setting,” Seghers said. “This real-world experience helps to build a student’s resume, offers unique networking opportunities, and gives an experiential foundation for determining post-graduate career plans. It opens doors that, otherwise, might not be known or available to a student, and it gives the student a chance to see what it’s like working at another university.”

We recently caught up with some of our Ogden Honors students who spent this past summer conducting research using funding provided by undergraduate research grants, and they were unanimous in their praise.

Simon LorenzoOgden Honors College senior and physics major Simón Lorenzo spent his summer at University of California, Berkeley, where he conducted research through the Center for Energy Efficient Electronics Science REU. Lorenzo’s work at Berkeley involved designing and constructing an experiment to measure the efficiency of record-breaking thermophotovoltaic cells that generate electricity from the heat of nearby heat sources.

Lorenzo followed the advice of LSU Associate Professor Gregory Stacy, who sponsors LSU’s Society of Physics Students, and LSU Physics Professor Jonathan Dowling, his research advisor, when choosing which REU to apply for. Following graduation, he plans to obtain a doctorate in electrical or optical engineering.“UC Berkeley Professor Eli Yablonovitch started the investigation of photonic crystals, which has been my field of study at LSU for the past three years,” Lorenzo said. “These photonic crystals have applications in solar and thermal photovoltaics, so the transition to semiconductor research was facilitated by my past experiences.”

McKenzie Windham

Ogden Honors College senior and biological engineering major McKenzie Windham spent her summer at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she worked on designing, simulating, and fabricating a plasmonic device in order to produce a more sensitive fluorescent label-based biosensor. “One technique used in many biosensors is fluorescent labeling, where a fluorescent dye will label a target molecule and fluoresce,” Windham explained. “The biggest problem with current fluorescent-based detection is that sometimes, even if the labeled molecule is significantly present, the amount of fluorescencecan’t be detected by the sensor.”

Though Windham’s research at West Virginia University was “definitely in a different vein” than her work in LSU Biological Engineering Professor Christina Sabliov’s colloidal nanoparticle lab at LSU, she found that it opened her mind to all sorts of possibilities in the field of nanoscience.

It was Sabliov that recommended she apply for the REU, given her deep interest in nanoscience. After researching the program, she felt it was too good an opportunity to pass up. “The biggest factor was that it would be an immersive experience in nanotechnology research,” Windham said. “As a student researcher, my time is often divided, and I can’t spend as much time in a lab as I want to. In a summer program where I was brought on to research, I could experience research more intimately, and bring back new skill sets that would make accomplishing my work at LSU more efficient.” 

As for her post-graduation plans, Windham hasn’t settled on a particular path yet, but her experience at West Virginia University has helped her narrow it down. “I’d like to attend graduate school. Especially after this summer, I’m leaning towards continuing into research and academia.”

Ryan Hoffman

Ogden Honors sophomore Ryan Hoffman spent his summer as an Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow here in Baton Rouge. Funded by the American Physiological Society, Hoffman worked on a collaborative project between the Galvez Lab at LSU and the Scott Lab at McMaster University.

“The project is an evolutionary study of hypoxia tolerance using fish from the Fundulidae family,” Hoffman explained. “Our goal is to determine if there is an evolutionary aspect to hypoxia tolerance…This study may provide insight into how fish populations may change in the face of increased global hypoxia, as well as identify representative species types that may be at greater risk.”

As a biological sciences major, Hoffman’s summer research allowed him to take what he’s learned in his coursework outside of the classroom. “It serves as an excellent augmentation to my studies in that I can take my knowledge beyond the lecture hall and apply it in order to solve or explain real-world phenomena,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman learned about the opportunity from LSU Biological Sciences Associate Professor Fernando Galvez. In addition to funding his summer research and enabling him to learn about the research process, the fellowship will pay for Hoffman to present his research at the Experimental Biology meeting in Chicago next spring.

After graduation, Hoffman plans on going to medical school and becoming a pediatric surgeon. “The American Physiological Society is a massive organization with members whose expertise are often used in medical research,” Hoffman said. “This REU and the associated conference may introduce me to others who will be instrumental in the future of my education and my career.”

If you’re interested in applying for an REU and don’t know where to start, or if you have any questions, contact Cindy Seghers at cseghers@lsu.edu