Mission Support and Test Services supports undergraduate research

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Mission Support and Test Services (MSTS) is a company that operates the Nevada National Security Site. The company offers career opportunities in a variety of scientific and technical fields related to national security. MSTS funded research opportunities for six undergraduate university students in the fall 2021 semester. The students’ projects were all related to state security, but topics ranged from transporting nuclear waste to the plant chemical ecology. The students’ reflections on this experience are presented below.

Matthew Armbrust

What prompted you to pursue research as an undergraduate?

My interest in pursuing undergraduate research was first motivated by seeing all the amazing work my professors and peers have done. It made me realize that I wanted to participate in undergraduate research, primarily to learn how research is conducted so that I could grow as a physicist.

What about working on your faculty member’s research project that you were most excited about?

What excited me the most about my undergraduate research, and I still am, is working through every step of the research process. I am fortunate to have been able to learn how to come up with research ideas, plan and carry out experiments, and process and analyze data. Now I’m very excited to go back to the experimental stage, because I was able to use the data I gained to refine the experiment.

Has this research changed anything in what you want to pursue after graduation?

Undertaking undergraduate research was an eye-opening experience for me; I realized that I love the challenge that comes with research. It solidified that after graduation, I will not let my life be absent from research. I have not decided in what form this will take place, whether it is with academia or a national laboratory.

Matthew Armbrust (left) and Bradley Pattengale both worked in Aaron Covington’s research lab in the Department of Physics.

Bradley Pattengale

What prompted you to pursue research as an undergraduate?

I was interested in pursuing research as an undergraduate student because I had heard it was a great way to gain experience in a lab and a perfect way to say if you want to pursue a career or a graduate degree in your respective field. Plus, the College of Science makes it super accessible to get into a lab and start gaining experience.

What about working on your faculty member’s research project that you were most excited about?

I was very excited to finally be able to apply all my theoretical knowledge on my subject to a real, real-life application and finally be able to “do physics” instead of just learning it. It was very satisfying to make the link on certain subjects with the courses and in the laboratory. I think it helps to give a more physical understanding of these subjects.

Has this research changed anything in what you want to pursue after graduation?

This experience made me appreciate the research side of graduate degrees more and made me want the chance to do my own. It gave me a great example of what academic research (or industrial research) would look like and allowed me to decide how much I liked it before committing to a very long graduate program and expensive.

Jeffrey points to the bottle held by Stopani Barrios, who is wearing glasses and a lab coat.
Nayeli Stopani Barrios worked with researcher Chris Jeffrey in the chemistry department.

Barrios Nayeli Stopani

What prompted you to pursue research as an undergraduate?

The summer before the fall 2021 semester, I had the incredible opportunity to meet Dr. Christopher Jeffrey and visit his lab. I’ve always had a love for science, so seeing a place where you can explore your curiosities really got me excited. This led me to develop an interest in becoming an undergraduate researcher. When Dr. Jeffrey told me about the opportunity to work in his lab, I jumped at the chance.

What about working on your faculty member’s research project that you were most excited about?

I was especially excited to learn new techniques that I hadn’t been exposed to in my general science labs. I also like to think of myself as a “pure scientist”, which means I’m very curious. I was excited to be in an environment where I can explore my curiosities.

Has this research changed anything in what you want to pursue after graduation?

Yes. Before starting the research, I had no desire to go to higher education. Personally, I thought this goal was unattainable, but after meeting my mentors and spending time in the lab, I found the incentive to pursue higher education. I realized that with hard work and determination, I could do anything.

Landon Morrison (left) writes in a notebook seated next to Thomas White, who has a laptop in front of him.  Graphs are drawn on a whiteboard in the background.
Landon Morrison’s faculty mentor was Thomas White of the physics department.

Landon Morisson

What prompted you to pursue research as an undergraduate?

I wanted to experience working on a current problem in physics. Undergraduate research is a great way to broaden your skills while gaining insight into what it’s like to work in physics.

What about working on your faculty member’s research project that you were most excited about?

The concept of being able to reproduce a physical experience entirely inside a computer simulation has always intrigued me.

Has this research changed anything in what you want to pursue after graduation?

Definitively. I plan to pursue graduate studies in computational physics.

Duncan Brown

What prompted you to pursue research as an undergraduate?

I was not at all interested in the research actually. I am a member of the Honors College and they interviewed us for the faculty. I just chose my current advisor and once the interview was over, he invited me to start researching with him.

What about working on your faculty member’s research project that you were most excited about?

What excites me the most are the impacts I hope it will have. Life cycle assessments are how industries determine environmental impacts and applying it to mining just makes sense. My advisor is also a leader in this area, which helps me a lot.

Has this research changed anything in what you want to pursue after graduation?

A little. I want to get into education at some point in my life, but it definitely inspired me to try and pursue a career in environmental science as well.

Blake Shane sits at a computer with a chart on the screen.  Christopher Kratt points to the graphic.
Blake Shane’s mentor was Christopher Kratt of the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering.

Blake Shane

What prompted you to pursue research as an undergraduate?

After taking an introductory course in geophysics, one of my instructors approached me with the opportunity to broaden my exposure to field techniques through an undergraduate research grant. We realized how we could help each other achieve our goals and got to work.

What about working on your faculty member’s research project that you were most excited about?

My research focused on relatively new techniques in geophysics such as structure from motion, distributed acoustic sensing and distributed temperature sensing. It all works on principles that I find very interesting, and they offer many interesting possibilities for future applications.

Has this research changed anything in what you want to pursue after graduation?

At this point, my post-graduate plans remain unchanged. However, learning more about how new technologies can be applied to the study of subterranean structure prompted consideration of a related graduate degree somewhere down the line.

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