July 24, 2013

Many LSU College of Engineering students are spending their summer conducting research not only across the state and country, but all over the world. Summer research studies present an array of opportunities for undergraduate students. Students obtain firsthand experience conducting a research project that could lead to publication, allowing them to work one-on-one with faculty and students and exposing them to a variety of career opportunities. Several students who participate in undergraduate research plan to pursue graduate degrees, and their experience gives them insight into life as a graduate student and a better idea of what they want to study for their graduate degree.

“It is very important for students interested in STEM graduate programs to gain experience in research over the summer,” said Shelby Pursley, biological engineering senior and undergraduate researcher with the NNIN Research Experience for Undergraduates Program at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga. “You cannot really know how you will react to a research-intensive schedule until you experience it firsthand outside of the school year. It is also advantageous to have this sort of experience through an institution other than LSU. Every school is different and every [principle investigator] is different – learning what you like, do not like and should look for in a graduate program will be invaluable to your future happiness in a graduate program.”

Isaiah Woodson is a chemical engineering senior from Richmond, Va., serving as an undergraduate research assistant for CEA/INAC at MINATEC in Grenoble, France. He attained this position through the LA – STEM Research Scholarship program at LSU. Woodson researches electrochemistry and the energy storage improvement of supercapacitors, studying the electrochemical characterization of silicon nanowire electrodes using ionic liquids as electrolytes. He tests several different ionic liquids and changes the structural morphology of the silicon nanowires to figure out how to optimize its performance in terms of energy, power and cycling stability. 

“I have enjoyed getting to know people from all over the country who work in the lab or other summer school/internship students,” Woodson said. “Grenoble is a popular place for international workers, students and researchers. Witnessing the wide diversity in the labs at CEA and how well they collaborate up-front shows the world's progress in toleration of one another's cultures and gives me motivation to work on my interpersonal skills with diverse people. I also enjoy the research; it is really interesting and important in today’s energy-demanding world.” 

Woodson's typical day starts when he arrives at work around 8 or 9 a.m. from a 30-minute bike ride or public tram ride across the city. He studies the research, performs experiments and/or works on presentations, and he leaves work around 5 or 6 p.m. to enjoy the rest of the evening hiking, hanging out in the city or traveling to other cities.

“I have learned how important it is to make a positive and tremendous impact on each person or group you come in contact with," Woodson said. "Get to know everyone, because each person has something invaluable to offer. Living in a different country with a different culture and different rules from the norm opens your eyes to a lot of things, whether small or big.”  

On the other hand, Chelsea Meaux, petroleum engineering junior from Mandeville, La., chose to stay close to home, serving as a research assistant/summer intern for Dr. Arash Dahi in LSU’s Craft and Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering. Meaux helps Dr. Dahi research geothermal reservoir engineering. She is creating an optimal design for hydraulic fracturing in geothermal reservoirs, in which she needs to maximize the amount of heat being extracted from the reservoir. Every Friday, Meaux turns in a progress report to her mentor so he can advise her on her project. She also assists her officemate, a graduate student whose secondary language is English, by reading and editing his paper. Because of her assistance, she will be mentioned as a contributor to his research in his paper.

“I have enjoyed the fact that the research is not involved with petroleum reservoirs,” Meaux said. “It gives me an opportunity to learn something that I won’t be hearing much about in any of my classes. Knowing the similarities and differences between geothermal reservoirs and petroleum reservoirs has already proved helpful in understanding things about petroleum reservoirs that other people don’t realize. This project is also helping me learn how to do research, which is something I don’t have a lot of experience doing and that I never really enjoyed doing until now.”

Meaux said the most beneficial thing she’s taken away from this experience is learning how to properly conduct research, a critical component she will use throughout her career.

Computer science and mathematics junior from Lake Charles, La., Bruno Beltran decided to travel to New Haven, Conn., where he serves as a student researcher at Yale University. Beltran generates and tests mathematical models for various bacterial systems in the model organism Caulobacter crescentus, including chromosome segregation and cell length regulation. He conducts mathematical analysis and computational verification of the models where applicable. In his spare time, he’s explored New Haven and visited Washington, D.C., New York and Boston.

“I’ve learned more about chemistry and stochastic differential equations than I ever would taking a class, and I’ve made some very close friends and connections, both in my lab and at Yale,” Beltran said. “I also get to interact with the brilliant people in my lab.”

Pursley, a Winter Springs, Fla., native, studies stem cell differentiation on electrospun nanofibers for nerve tissue engineering. She spends her day producing nanofiber scaffolds in the chemistry lab, reading articles related to the project, processing scanning electron microscope, or SEM, images and writing a paper for the project while the nanofibers collect. She also performs procedures necessary for cell growth in her cultures daily.

“I’ve gained an inconceivable amount of practical and theoretical knowledge related to electrospinning of nanofibers and stem cell culture induction, two topics I had no prior knowledge of or experience with,” Pursley said. “I’ve also gained a certain level of confidence in my abilities and my aptitude for a Ph.D. program that I would not have gained otherwise.”

When considering a summer research position, Pursley advises searching “[School Name] REU" for graduate schools of interest and looking into available summer opportunities.

“I applied to about eight different programs and only got one ‘yes’,” Pursley said. “There are typically no application fees, so apply to as many as you can stomach! Most application due dates lie around mid-February, but some are due as early as December. Find your programs of interest and nail down your letters of recommendation during the fall semester, and you should be in good shape.”  


Article written by Elise Bernard, communications intern. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, mlavall@lsu.edu or (225) 578-5706. 


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