Scientific research does not take summer vacations. And undergraduates in physics who want to prepare themselves for graduate school — or just want to find out what it means to be a working physicist — shouldn't have to, either.
But what if a student attends a school with a small physics department with few resources, or can't afford summers spent not working?
Stanford Physics, as part of their Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, has partnered with a undergraduate summer research program called CAMPARE that provides students from minority or underserved backgrounds the opportunity to do hands-on scientific research.
CAMPARE invites students from participating California State University campuses and California community colleges to apply for positions across the full range of Stanford physics research: from astrophysics to materials science to theory, and from particle physics to biophysics.
The California-based CAMPARE joins the Leadership Alliance's Summer Research-Early Identification Program (SR-EIP), a nation-wide program focusing on providing research experience and mentorship to underserved and underrepresented students.
CAMPARE's second summer session at Stanford ended recently, and we spoke to a few of the young scientists taking advantage of this opportunity. Click on each student's name to learn about their experience. (Text and photos by Lori White.)
- April Nuestro
- Christina Vides
- Nicole Ngoc
- Rene Padilla
STUDENT: April Nuestro
HOME INSTITUTION: Chico State
MENTORS: Aaron Roodman and Adam Snyder
FIELD: LSST Cosmology
Hi, April. Can you tell us a little bit about the research you did this summer?
AN: I've been working on some code for data analysis for the LSST camera. For the summer, the research focused on detecting objects in a CCD sensor image, placing the objects in a universal coordinate system, and gathering data on the objects. We're using a spot projector to generate the data—it shoots light at the camera sensors to simulate stars and we need to analyze the sensor data from that to see if the camera sensors are working correctly.
It's been really fun but at first I wasn't sure about it because I didn't know any code! I messaged Aaron a few weeks before I came and asked what I'd be working on and he said, "You're going to be coding." I didn't have any experience coding, so I started looking at Python tutorials. I learned the rest of what I needed over the summer.
Aaron has been really great as an advisor—he's going to let me keep working on the code while I'm back at Chico.
What made you interested in physics?
AN: I actually started as a biology major and it was interesting, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with it. I took AP physics in high school as a senior in high school after college applications and I didn't know I'd love it so much, so when I was a sophomore, I switched to physics. I know now it's the way to go.
Originally I thought I'd be a high school physics teacher, and I still want to do that, but I think I want to do more with physics first and then teach or just do outreach. I already volunteer for outreach activities—I'm currently the president of the Chico chapter of the Society of Physics Students but before that I was head of outreach.
What has the opportunity to do research at Stanford meant to you?
AN: I'm a rising senior and this has been my first chance to do summer research. We have labs at Chico, but there's not much funding for actual research.
When I applied, I didn't think I would get in—but I did, and I think I shocked my parents! I'm the first in my family to go to college, and when I told them I got a scholarship and a position at Stanford and they said "What?!"
I probably wouldn't even think about grad school if I hadn't made it in, but along with the research we had classes about how to prep for grad school—how to get letters of recommendation, how to decide where to go, a GRE prep class, just lots of help. Plus I get to apply to Stanford for grad school for free!
I'm loving what I do for Aaron and after this summer I think I'm going to end up getting a PhD in physics.
STUDENT: Christina Vides
HOME INSTITUTION: Cal Poly Pomona
MENTOR: Bruce Macintosh
FIELD: Adaptive Optics
Hi, Christina. You're here through the Leadership Alliance SR-EIP program this year, but last year you were an inaugural CAMPARE student, working with Bruce Macintosh. Why did you want to come back?
CV: I had a lot of fun working with the entire Gemini Planetary Imager team last year. It was great! This year through SR-EIP I could have gone to MIT or the University of Wyoming, but when I got an email from Stanford I actually screamed.
GPI is designed to look for extrasolar planets, but I'm doing SETI work with Bruce. Optical and infrared SETI.
SETI? The search for extraterrestrial intelligence?
CV: Yes. We derived a model for the necessary power output of a laser fired by an extrasolar planet so GPI could see it in either optical or infrared.
CV: Essentially we asked the question "What would GPI see if it was calibrated for a monochromatic source?" And we did come up with some numbers.
Tau Ceti is the closest sun-like star at 3.65 parsecs—about 12 lightyears—away and we already know it has planets. GPI could see a signal from a 24 kilowatt laser on a Tau Ceti planet. Proxima Centauri is the star closest to us at about four lightyears away and it also has planets, though it's a red dwarf. GPI could see a signal from a 336-watt laser on one of those planets.
There are laser pointers for sale that are about one-sixth of that.
CV: It gets better. We applied this model to WFIRST, a space-based telescope, and found that it would be able to see a 0.42-watt laser on one of Proxima Centauri's planets. The only downside is that part of our analysis was to determine if we could accidentally detect the signals, but based on the way our star moves in relation to the other stars we checked it would be almost impossible. Someone on one of the planets would have to aim at us.
How did you get involved in SETI-type research?
CV: Before I transferred to Cal Poly-Pomona I went to Mount San Antonio Community College, and the astronomy teacher showed me that astronomy is not boring.
It helped that she was a woman, and so supportive. She introduced me to a retired JPL scientist who volunteered in the basement lab. I worked with him on a project where we analyzed the reflectiveness and polarization of aluminum oxide, which mimics ice. It's for characterizing Europan ice.
Ah. The moon of Jupiter with a liquid-water ocean that's talked about as a possible location for extraterrestrial life.
CW: I love working with him. He's kind of what you think of when you think of a mad scientist. Our own mad scientist in the basement.
What are your short-term and long-term goals? Where do you want to take this research?
CV: My short-term goal is to write a publishable paper about it over the school year. Long term, I'd like to work at JPL and teach at Mount San Antonio Community College. I'd like to pay it forward.
STUDENT: Nicole Ngoc
HOME INSTITUTION: Golden West College (now MIT)
MENTORS: Chao-Lin Kuo and Keith Thompson
FIELD: Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB)
Hi, Nicole. We understand that you already had a fair amount of research experience when you applied to the CAMPARE program.
NN: Yes—I think that's what made my MIT application stand out—my research experience. Along with CAMPARE, I did biophysics research at Cal State Fullerton last summer, and last year I analyzed observatory data at JPL.
And now with I'm working with Chao-Lin Kuo to make sure the next generation of CMB telescopes receive more of the data available.
What does that entail?
NN: The receivers in the BICEP Array have six surfaces—two each for two lenses and an infrared filter—that could reflect some of the radiation coming in and reduce the signal transmitted to the detectors. So we put an anti-reflective coating on them. I've been testing the properties of the anti-reflection coating used on the telescopes. Thickness, refractive index—checking theory vs. reality. I've also had to work with cryogenics to see if the coating will work in the cold.
That's right. BICEP is at the South Pole, isn't it. What do you like about the CMB research?
NN: I do understand the cosmic microwave background and why it's important, but I really like hands-on stuff—especially the optics-related work I've done. So I already knew I wanted to do research. This summer has just strengthened my passion.
So you'd recommend CAMPARE? Stanford? Both?
NN: Definitely. I'd come back to Stanford for grad school and I would absolutely recommend CAMPARE. I've already shared this with my professor and the students at my community college.
How did you get interested in physics?
NN: Dad is sort of a cross between an architect and an engineer. I guess you'd call him a civil architect. So my dream as when I was younger was to be an architect. I thought that meant I should be good in physics, but the more I learned in physics the more I liked it over architecture. That's why I changed majors.
STUDENT: Rene Padilla
HOME INSTITUTION: CSU Stansislaus
MENTOR: Dan Akerib
FIELD: Dark Matter
Hi, Rene. Can you tell us how you found out about CAMPARE?
RP: Sure. I'd been at CSU Stanislaus for a year. My professor, Wing To, is a member of the LUX [Large Underground Xenon] collaboration and he has some students who can work with him. In fact, I met a student who had been here last year as a CAMPARE student.
I didn't think at the beginning I would get into the program because I didn't have enough research experience—before Stanislaus I went to a community college and we didn't really have any opportunities to do research.
So it wasn't until after I'd been working with Professor To and learned back about LUX and dark matter that I decided to apply. LZ, the experiment I worked on here, is a bigger version of LUX, so that was a good introduction.
How did you get interested in physics?
RP: I took my first physics class and I understood the equations, and I was curious about why and how they worked. I knew when I went to college here that I wanted to study physics. Best thing about it—whenever you learn something you realize you know less. Everything expands so quickly. It's fascinating.
Do you want to keep learning more and knowing less?
RP: Grad school is definitely in my future. Especially after the GRE class and the seminars about requirements for grad students. That part of the program was good because we have all the information we didn't have before. I know now what I have to do. I'm definitely going to apply to Stanford. I'd like to work at SLAC again—it's a nice place. I feel like I belong here.