CEINT REU Creates Network for Undergraduates

Since summer 2011, 33 undergraduates from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico have enthusiastically participated in CEINT’s center-wide NSF funded international Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program across four partner sites:  Duke, Carnegie Mellon, and Virginia Tech Universities and with our French partner the European Center for Research and Education in Geosciences and the Environment (CEREGE) in Aix-en-Provence, France.  Co-led by CEINT Associate Director for Assessment and Outreach- Dr. Glenda Kelly and Dr. Lee Ferguson-PI, our REU program is inspiring undergraduate students to pursue future education and careers in science and engineering by engaging them in interdisciplinary research projects that focus on investigations of environmental implications of nanotechnologies. Projects span six research themes designed to link fundamental physical and chemical properties of nano-scale materials with their observed biological and ecosystem effects.  Center-wide discoveries since initial funding of this REU illustrate for students the importance of conducting studies in the complex media of CEINT’s mesocosms to ensure real-world relevance. Immersion in a network of international research and collaboration paves the way for the majority to enter graduate school in the sciences or engineering.

DIVERSITY and CAREER IMPACTS.  Our program has engaged a diverse group of students- including underrepresented minority and 1st generation college students was well as students from non-R1 institutions with over 50% female participation over the past three years. Undergraduates are exposed to a broad range of interdisciplinary, environmentally relevant and international research opportunities during their internships and have been very enthusiastic about the program and about the impacts on their careers. A few highlights from students’ feedback on career impacts include:

  • Encouraged me further to pursue nanotechnology as a particular interest for future research in grad school and contributed to my being awarded the Ryan Fellowship for exploration in nanoscience at Northwestern
  • CEINT brought together many disciplines of nanotechnology, from fields I had been exposed to and others I had not. It was an incredible learning opportunity-not only to see how these fields of science work together on environmental issues, but also be a part of the ongoing research.
  • CEINT was my first chance to become involved in a serious research endeavor, and served as a great springboard into chemical research. The people I met at Duke helped me get into a graduate school and provided valuable advice on my career as a researcher. I highly recommend the program to anyone interested in learning more about nanochemistry and starting a serious research career
  • Internship was seminal to the development of my future goals and allowed me the unique chance to gain friends, an expanded network of contacts within the community of engaged scientists, experience in planning and executing a research project, and a first-hand encounter with scientific collaboration at the international level.
  • REU taught me a great deal not only about nanotechnologies, but also about the general academic research process and gave me motivation and direction heading into my senior year. I made friends from colleges across the US, and will stay connected with them for years
  • Made me realize that I want to pursue a career that combines environmental research and international travel. To this end, I won a Fulbright Scholarship to study air pollution in Beijing, China for fall 2013 and will enter UC Berkeley's MS/PhD program in Environmental Engineering fall 2014.
  • One of the most exciting aspects of the CEINT REU program was the interdisciplinary collaboration inherent in nearly all of CEINT’s projects. Getting to collaborate with all of CEINT’s departments really proved how diversity in background promotes and enhances the scholarly research process.

FORMING A LASTING NETWORK. Before transitioning the one of four research sites, all REU students convene at Duke for a week- long Orientation which gives students a “big picture” view of CEINT research thru faculty presentations and tours of CEINT labs.  Orientation week has proved crucial for bonding and communication across research sites and forming connections that continue past the REU summer- both among students and faculty mentors.  From year one, students were inspired to create their own website for posting and refining their work and sharing ideas with other interns and mentors across sites.  A central part of students’ experiences are the additional professional development opportunities which include panels on applying to graduate school, colloquia on career opportunities in industry as well as academia, and site visits that include the Environmental Protection Agency (Research Triangle Park site) and for students at the CEREGE French site- opportunities to attend the annual International Consortium for Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology meeting where interns are immersed in international presentations. Mentoring often continues for years past the summer program.  REU students reconvene at Duke at the end of each summer for Graduation Presentations that generate much enthusiasm among students and faculty since students get to share both polished results and informal experiences from their summer internships.

Congratulations to CEINT REU Graduating Class of 2013!