The Catholic University of America

July 14, 2009

Student Interns Work for Some of Nation's Top Scientists

Left, Argus Athanas-Crannell, 20, of New York and Thibaut Robin, 21, of France take part in an internship at the Vitreous State Laboratory (VSL), working with leading scientists in the field of glass-related science including, right, internship coordinator Isabelle Muller.

College and high school students are getting the opportunity to work as full-time paid interns for some of the world's leading astrophysicists and material scientists in programs overseen by the physics department of The Catholic University of America.

For example, Catholic University runs a program funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation that brings 20 college students per year from CUA and other universities to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. At that Greenbelt, Md., facility, they assist scientists for 10 or more weeks. Each student works for a mentor scientist - either one of the many CUA scientists who work at Goddard or one of NASA's own staff members.

NASA provides about $200,000 per year to pay the interns, and the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates program chips in $60,000 per year, according to Fred Bruhweiler, the CUA physics professor who runs the internship program and who heads CUA's Institute for Astrophysics and Computational Sciences (IACS), which boasts more than 35 CUA research professors doing cutting-edge astrophysics on projects of mutual interest to the university and Goddard.

Working with top-line researchers, the interns from colleges around the country get to join in a wide range of NASA activity. For example, some help to analyze data from the Hubble Space Telescope, others work on the payloads of rockets that will study the sun and others assist in developing optical instruments that will search for planets circling distant stars. Some interns have even gotten the opportunity to co-write articles in scientific journals.

Some of the undergraduates who have participated have gone on to become graduate students in Catholic University's Department of Physics.

Meanwhile on the university's own campus, nearly a dozen students ranging from high school juniors to college students are interning at the university's Vitreous State Laboratory (VSL), working with leading scientists in the fields of glass-related science, nanotechnology and biophysics. Most of the interns are working for at least 10 weeks over the summer, while three college students from France will be interning for a full year. The program has proved so popular that VSL receives more applicants than can be presently accommodated.

"VSL is definitely the nation's leading research institution for the science of turning nuclear waste into glass, and the laboratory is growing to be a leader in nanotechnology, biophysics and other areas," says Isabelle Muller, the VSL scientist who oversees the laboratory's internship program.

The interns are participating in cutting-edge projects that include transforming nuclear waste into glass, developing a new kind of environmentally friendly cement-like material (composed of industrial waste products) whose manufacture doesn't generate greenhouse gas emissions, creating new types of solar cells that could improve solar energy systems, growing glass-coated nanofibers that could be used to collect waste-heat from power plants and convert it into electricity, fabricating nanowire devices that could be used in advanced gas sensors for detection of hazardous environments, and manipulating the spin-direction of electrons with the goal of greatly increasing the speed and performance of computers.

Graduate student Chris McAndrew with VSL summer intern Joe Zischkau, 18.

CUA's physics internship programs provide benefits to both the students and the university: The programs serve to nurture student's interest in the sciences by giving them exposure to real-life research environments and the opportunity to participate in potentially groundbreaking experimental programs, while also helping to recruit undergraduates and graduate students into CUA's physics programs such as VSL and IACS.

MEDIA: For more information, contact Katie Lee or Mary McCarthy in Catholic University's Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.