Undergrad USRA Previous Comments

2009-present (administrator: Fei Zhou)

2012:

UBC Physics & Astronomy received 9 NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards and 2 Dean of Science Summer Research Awards this year.

2011:

UBC Physics & Astronomy received 10 NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards and 3 Dean of Science Summer Research Awards this year.

2007-2008 (administrator: Jess Brewer)

2008:

UBC Physics & Astronomy received 16 NSERC Undergraduate Summer Research Awards this year.
This is what some of the students said about their experiences:

Student Lab Project
Simon Foreman
UBC
Scott Oser

This past summer, I had the opportunity to work under Scott Oser on the T2K project. This is a huge international collaboration, the goal of which is to fire a beam of neutrinos 295 km across Japan, in order to measure various properties relating to the oscillations of these elusive particles. My position was mainly geared towards various tasks in the construction of a scintillator-based "fine-grained" detector to be positioned 280 m from where the beam is generated. I also spent time working with a Monte Carlo simulation of the electronics response of multi-pixel photon counters (MPPCs), a new type of photodetector used extensively in T2K.

My skill set grew tremendously over the summer, as I gained experience with everything from scientific computing to precise mechanical work. However, just as valuable were the peripheral tasks connected with the job: learning to concisely present my work at weekly project meetings, familiarizing myself with scientific and technical literature related to T2K, and interacting with many different scientists and engineers on a daily basis. I had the privilege of working at TRIUMF as well, which creates a fantastic atmosphere for students, with weekly undergrad-level seminars and several social events.

The value of this type of summer research position for an aspiring scientist cannot be overstated -- I would heartily encourage any interested student to take the plunge, to experience what it's like to be part of "real science" as it happens.

Cedric Lin
UBC, 3rd year
Ian Affleck

 

Ian Affleck comments: I am pleased with how this went. Cedric continued to impress me. We solved the problem I set him rather quickly and are currently writing up a paper on it for publication - not bad for a student who had just finished 2nd year. I then gave him a 2nd problem - this one was not a research problem but just explaining a difficult Phys Rev Lett to me - he also did that very quickly. He attended my group meetings and is continuing to stay involved.
Henry Ngo
UBC, 3rd year
Douglas Scott

My NSERC URSA supervisor was Dr. Douglas Scott. My project was doing an analysis of the BLAST (Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Submillimetre Telescope) data from the science flight in December 2006. It involved doing a lot of computations using a programming language called IDL (Interactive Data Language). I found it very enjoyable because programming is like solving little puzzles. I don't like programming for computer science classes because that is usually pointless -- this summer, I felt like solving the puzzles actually accomplished something. I also found the experience very educational. It was my first work experience with real life astronomy research projects. The things I learned this summer nicely complemented the ideas I studied about in classes. Working with real data is rare in Astronomy classes because there are no lab-based Astronomy courses until 4th year if you are in an Astronomy program. I enjoyed the summer so much that I am staying on the project for another 4 months!

Oren Rippel
UBC, 2nd year
Mark van Raamsdonk

Over this summer, I had the pleasure to hold an NSERC USRA and to research alongside with Dr. Mark Van Raamsdonk. We attacked a problem in fluid mechanics, which had to do with solving the Navier-Stokes equations for a 2D compressible axisymmetrical fluid. Studying the properties of this vortex has its applications -- using the gauge duality, the equations map to describe certain black holes. I thoroughly enjoyed this summer, as I got to learn and understand beautiful physics and math: general relativity, fluid mechanics (surprisingly), the math of metrics and manifolds, perturbation theory, numerical analysis, partial differential equations, and a lot more.

Before the summer, I only saw physics "tamed" in the classroom. Working on the project, I got the chance to taste real-life research "in the wild". Here, I had the freedom to derive my own theory, which was indescribably satisfying. Dr. Van Raamsdonk was very friendly, and his inspiring comments and ideas aimed me in the right direction. As a fun corollary, we intend to publish our results in a paper -- but I am exponentially happier to have had this awesome summer experience! This is definitely an eye-opener for any potential physicist.

Ellen Schelew
Queen's, 2nd year
Lorne Whitehead & Michelle Mossman

 

Lorne Whitehead comments: I have routinely hired NSERC USRA students to work in my Applied Physics laboratory and they have made tremendous contributions to our research through their diligent efforts and new perspectives. The USRA program is a great way to access top-notch undergraduate student research assistants and offer them exposure to an area of science that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience.
Lloyd Ung
UBC, 4th year
Andre Marziali

I can't be too detailed because some elements of my project may be confidential for the moment.

I worked with Dr. Marziali in the Applied Biophysics Lab for the summer of 2008. During my term as an NSERC research assistant, I helped to build an instrument for DNA concentration by a process called synchronous coefficient of drag alteration (SCODA). I was involved in several facets of engineering research and development including design, prototyping and testing for a variety of challenging systems. This was definitely an incredible opportunity made possible - in no small part - by the NSERC USRA.

Through this experience, I was able to learn about high voltage power systems and amplifiers; I gained skills in analog electronics design and control systems; and I made valuable connections in the academic world. In addition, I caught a glimpse of the research environment which helped to whet my appetite for further studies. Overall, I am truly grateful to have been the recipient of an NSERC USRA.

Chenchong Zhu
UBC, 2nd year
Jaymie Matthews

For my summer NSERC-URSA, I worked under Dr. Jaymie Matthews with the MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of STars) space telescope science team. My project dealt with "exoplanets" (planets around stars other than the Sun). I developed a model to predict the amount of radiation emanating in the optical and infrared from exoplanets with rings. One of the ways astronomers can detect an exoplanet is if it passes in front of its star during its orbit, causing a tiny change in the light during the "transit". The MOST instrument can be sensitive to other variations in visible light over the planet's orbital cycle, including eclipses and changes in the exoplanet's phase. NASA's Spitzer infrared space observatory can detect some of these changes at far-IR wavelengths. So far, no one has reported the detection of a ringed exoplanet. My model is designed to show what the light curve of a ringed exoplanet would look like, and compares that curve to the curve of the same exoplanet without rings. It also shows changes in reflected and emitted light in exoplanets in highly eccentric orbits, that can be vital clues to the properties of that planet's atmosphere.

I've used my model to show that the light curves of ringed planets do have morphologies not seen in those of non-ringed planets. Based on the results, Dr. Matthews and I are considering entering a Spitzer observing proposal to specifically look for rings around certain known exoplanets.

This is the first opportunity I've had to apply the physical and astronomical concepts I learned in class to real problems, and it was an incredible, eye-opening experience. I found, however, that just the experience of working on a research project, and understanding the work and social dynamic that comes with research, has been more beneficial to me than the technical skills I learned during the work term. I now have a much better idea of what fields of physics I want to go into, and the kind of environment that would be conducive to my research performance. I think the "taste of research" that the NSERC USRA program gives would be invaluable to anyone looking to go into academia following their education.

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2007:

UBC Physics & Astronomy received 15 NSERC Undergraduate Summer Research Awards in 2007.
This is what some of the students said about their experiences:

Student Lab Project
Raymond Gao
UBC, 4th year
Kirk Madison

I did my NSERC with Prof Kirk Madison in his Quantum Degenerate Gases Lab. His research is concerned with the rapidly expanding field of AMO (Atomic Molecular Optics) physics. In brief, we study and manipulate many intrinsic properties of atoms and molecules by cooling, slowing, and trapping them with laser beams and magnetic fields. These techniques allows atomic temperatures down to one millionth of a degree kelvin to be achieved! This is extraordinary if we think about the fact this is 4 million times colder than liquid helium! Yet what never ceased to amaze me was that in the lab there are no cryogenic chambers, no technicians in pressurized suits, no massive contraptions, no tricks and magic, just some students and lasers.

My specific project was to build an Optical Dipole Trap. The point was to hold Rubidium and Lithium atoms in tiny little cells that are microns in dimensions while we poke and pry at them like rats in a cage, except there is no one to argue that this is inhumane . . . yet. To achieve this, I used a very powerful Fiber Laser to create the trap. The design process of the trap was very hands-on (potential theorists beware!) and involved design of mechanical structures, working with electronics and scientific instruments, calculating the trap characteristics, and laying out optic circuits and manipulating the laser beam. The work was very challenging, rewarding and interactive. And most important of all, I feel like I've gotten closer than any potential evil geniuses on this campus to building fricken sharks with fricken lasers on top of their heads.

Simon Hastings
UBC, 4th year
Doug Bonn

The NSERC USRA was one of the most important experiences of my undergraduate time spent at UBC. It has allowed me to work in the field I was considering persuing, and has helped me decide which avenues of my studies I should focus on. In addition to learning tons, I've gotten to get my hands dirty with the research; an invaluable experience for anyone considering another 6 to 10 years of school!

Rob Hocking
UBC, 4th year
William Unruh

I worked for Bill Unruh on a real-time simulation of the view of the sky around a (uncharged, nonrotating) black hole. The deflection of light by the hole was precomputed over about a day and stored in a look up table as a function of viewing and angle and distance from the black hole. One could then move around the black hole with the mouse and the view of the stars could be updated in real time by reading from the table. By taking into account abberation of light from special relativity, it was also possible to give yourself an initial position and velocity and watch the effect on the sky as you followed the trajectory specified by these initial conditions. This setup made it possible to penetrate the event horizon and see the sky as viewed by someone on the interior of a black hole.

I enjoyed the experience enormously for a variety of reasons.

  1. I did not believe it would be possible to do in real time what we were doing, but Bill's ideas made it possible.
  2. I loved doing something so beautiful and fun for a job.
  3. I got a chance to learn a lot more about a subject of interest to me.
Overall it was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone who likes physics.
Nikhil Jain
Dartmouth, 2nd year
Scott Oser

During the summer of 2007, I worked as a NSERC research assistant for Dr. Scott Oser in the T2K neutrino group at UBC. The T2K project is an experimental project that seeks to better characterize the nature of neutrinos. Although I intend to pursue research physics as a career, I had not, until the USRA, truly been involved in physics research. As such, it was both a formative and inspiring experience for me. I learned a great deal about how experimental research works, specifically how one is expected to be able to work independently and as a part of a large international collaboration. During this past summer, I was involved in a number of different aspects of research: data analysis and noise reduction; helping build the actual detector; and my main project, simulating the behavior of electronics specifically designed for the T2K project.

My time as a research assistant was a productive and fun use of my summer, in which I felt that I was able to contribute meaningfully to an important project. Moreover, this experience only strengthened my resolve to pursue research as a career. I strongly encourage those even considering academia or research as a career to apply and gain first-hand experience involved in research.

Matthew Lam
UBC, 4th year
Carl Michal

This summer, I held an NSERC USRA working in Dr. Carl Michal's Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Lab. My project was somewhat atypical in that it was developed by a fellow Engineering Physics student and me, in the months leading up to the work term. My colleague also received an USRA to work on the project with Dr. Carl Hansen. Our main focus was to develop extremely small magnetic coils as the transceiver element of an NMR probe. In line with the increasing miniaturization of biochemical experiments, as evidenced by the proliferation of lab-on-a-chip technology, it is desired to extend NMR's capacity for spectroscopic and structural determination into the micro-scale. By the end of the summer, we demonstrated proof of concept by collecting spectra of solutes in samples with a volume of half a nanolitre.

This position allowed me to develop an idea from conception to a working prototype, which is a very satisfying experience. Over the course of the summer I had the opportunity to get my hands in everything from finite-element simulation, to RF electronics and PCB etching, to operation of the NMR Lab's 360 MHz spectrometer. The lab atmosphere was very congenial and my colleagues were always willing to help. In the flood of classes, homework and exams, it is too easy to lose sight of what it all boils down to. The NSERC USRA is a great opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge that we have through our coursework towards a research project of at least some significance.

Sandra Meyers
U of A, 2nd year
Alex MacKay

I can't express how much I enjoyed my NSERC USRA work term in Dr. Alex MacKay's medical physics MRI research lab. This job gave me the opportunity to work with many interesting people in a cooperative environment; I developed presentation, computer and research skills, among others, and increased my knowledge in a number of areas. My project this summer involved analysing MRI brain images for myelin water, and I actually ended up writing a paper, which I hope to get published in the next year. I would recommend this program to anyone. It was extremely valuable for me, and will play a very important role in what I decide to do with my future.

Alex MacKay comments: "Sandra Meyers worked with us this summer. She was a superb summer student! She spent the summer working on one project which she took from an idea to an almost finished paper. She was a more mature scientist and scientific writer than many new PhD students. She fitted in very well with our fairly large group here in the hospital. She worked hard and didn't hesistate to ask for help when she needed supervision. She gave our extended group (including medical professionals) an excellent presentation on her work in August. We expect to submit the paper for publication sometime this fall.

"She wants to work with us next year and we are very keen to have her back (I did tell her that she might want experience with another group). Also, we would like very much to have her as a graduate student.

"Another very successful NSERC placement!"

Gregory Paciga
McGill, 3rd year
Doug Scott

 

Doug Scott comments: "I always enjoy working with undergraduate students over the summer. I find that their enthusiasm and thirst for research experience is infectious. It can remind even hardened Professors of the thrill of finding out something about science that no one knew before."
Nick Rawluk
McMaster, 4th year
Thomas Tiedje

Working at UBC under Dr. Tiedje's supervision gave me a number of great opportunities. My knowledge of surface science expanded greatly, especially with respect to molecular beam epitaxy. The work was engaging and a nice mixture of theory with practical experimental skills. While I had done some work related to molecular beam epitaxy I never had the chance to work as intimately with the machine or explore as deeply the fundamental physics involved. I had not worked in a lab as large previously and it provided friendly and helpful interaction with graduate students. By the end of the summer I was disappointed to leave the experiment and the lab.

My previous research experience was all at my home university so coming to UBC gave me a taste of how things are done at another institution. It certainly has shaped the aim of my future pursuits. In my own time it also let me explore a beautiful part of Canada I had never experienced before. Our lab hike in the mountains was gorgeous example and we even talked a little physics on the trails too.

Luke Sandilands
UBC, 5th year
Jeff Young

 

Jeff Young comments: Luke has been a big help in the laboratory. He has resolved a long-standing issue with one of our instruments, and he is setting up an elaborate time-resolved optical experiment that also involved cryogenic sample handling. This experiment was committed to based on his literature search that identified an important parameter associated with the bandstructure of PbSe quantum dots. Luke is contining for a second 4 month stint on this project.
Carolina Tropini
UBC, 4th year
Carl Hansen

I believe research is the true essence of science. In some sense everything we learn in classes has been research at one point or another, it's just that it's often outdated by a few decades. In my mind being part of what might become future science is one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences an undergraduate can have. For this I am extremely grateful to NSERC, since it has been and keeps giving opportunities to students to reach out beyond classes.

This summer I worked with Dr. Carl Hansen on a microfluidics project. What is extremely neat about this technology is that it scales biological and chemical experiments - which would normally take up entire labs - down to micro and pico volumes, therefore greatly enhancing throughput and saving enormous amounts of time and money. I worked on a project for which I designed, fabricated and tested a palm sized microfluidic chip having one million reaction chambers. The standard commercial technology offers less than 100. . . . The application that I researched involved a method for Non-Invasive Diagnosis of Fetal Down's syndrome. This project was extremely rewarding although challenging, and it was amazing to work with such a great team of researchers. This was certainly an all round great experience!

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2004-2006 (administrator: Marcel Franz)

2006:

This is what some of the students said about their USRA experiences in 2006:

Student Lab Project
Ivan Chan Andre Marziali

I worked this summer at Dr. Andre Marziali's Applied Biophysics Laboratory, in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. This lab specializes in engineering instrumentation for biological research. As an undergraduate research assistant, this was a really valuable opportunity for me to learn about biophysics, a field I've been considering for further studies, and even just about life as a researcher in general. I worked on testing and developing the lab's "SCODA" technology (short for "Synchronous Coefficient of Drag Alteration"), a new and powerful instrument for DNA research. I learned about the physics of DNA electrophoresis, about electronics, and even about techniques in molecular biology. Labs in school can be fun, but there's never any escaping the feeling that anything done is simply for my own illumination; it felt different knowing that I was actually contributing to a leading-edge research project that was useful to the scientific community as whole. In addition, I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere, the guidance of other researchers, and the opportunity to learn about other projects in the lab. And last, but not least, I benefited from special occasions like a paint-ball war against neighbouring labs!

Mark Ku Marcel Franz

This summer I had the opportunity to work under Dr. Franz's condensed matter group.  My project involved writing programs to perform numerical calculation for various systems, based on tight-binding model.  The project culminated in numerical investigation of half-vortex in p-wave superconductor, with the goal of verifying theoretical predications found in literature.

Probably the most amazing thing I found during the summer is that I could have started without too much relevant information of the field, and yet to have learned so much by the end of the summer.  I was able to learn many useful numerical techniques and to employ them in my project.  My C programming skill, which I had not used since high school, also improved greatly.  At the same time, I learned a lot about condensed matter physics, something I had little exposure to before.  I also had the chance to go along with Dr. Franz to CIAR's Quantum Material Summer School and Conference.  It was definitely an eye opener.  Although the materials were very much beyond me, it was a valuable experience to see how an academic gathering takes place, as well as to take a glimpse into the newest discovery in physics.

Overall, the research has been really enjoyable and enriching.  I had a first-hand experience with what a research is like: it's never short on guessing, disappointment, learning from mistake, painstakingly trying to find where something goes wrong, etc.  But a discovery at the end of the day will make you jump off the chair and dance in excitement.  It is always worth all the troubles that you go through.  And that's exactly my summer experience.

Nicole Meger  

My NSERC summer job followed my last undergraduate term. Working in a lab helped me get an idea of what aspects of research are interesting to me and what to look for in a master's project. I got to spend the summer playing with binary star light curves from a working telescope that's up in orbit...which is pretty cool. Also, hanging out at school over the summer is really fun as everyone is really friendly and nice to chat with. It's the best way to get to know colleagues and professors.

Elizabeth Ledwosinska Doug Bonn

I worked with Dr. Doug Bonn this summer in the AMPEL Superconductivity Lab.

The most difficult part of this summer's NSERC placement was learning once again how to play. Like an orphaned child, I was forced to overcome my fears of the plethora of options before me and discover the lab world on my own terms and at my own pace. Strangely unbeknownst to me, this freedom of environment was exactly what my heart desired. In addition to gaining many street-smarts such as soldering, machining, and helium-transferring, I also dabbled in some theoretical work concerning lossy dielectrics, learned how to run samples in the SQUID (Super-conducting Quantum Interference Device), and cut and polished YBCO crystals in preparation for testing. The most frustrating experience proved to be the creation of the cafe Americano; it is left to the neophyte to figure out that the espresso machine necessitates the donning of safety goggles.

Small projects aside, my personal engagement was best described as working on the railroad. The initial goal was simply to construct a model of a magnetically levitating train: a magnetic track along which one could push  a superconducting puck in a little boat filled with liquid N2. However, the project complexified with time when I invented an electromagnetic propulsion method. My colleagues and I also designed and built a sensory circuit to automate the process of sensing the passing of the train to accurately time the magnetic field kick. This summer, liberation from the fetters of wheels and guidelines allowed the elevation of trains and thoughts.

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2005:

17 NSERC and 3 UBC summer scholarships were awarded.
This is what some of the students said about their work:

Student Lab Project
Amy Liu
UBC, 3rd year
Jeff Young

This summer, I had the opportunity to work for Dr. Jeff Young in the nanophotonics and nanofabrication laboratory located in AMPEL. The main research focus of the group was to perfect the fabrication of photonic crystals and to study their optical properties. I was in awe of the nanofabrication facilities available at AMPEL and learned to work with various types of machines including the Atomic Force Microscope, Scanning Electron Microscope and Ellipsometer, etc. Everyone in the lab was extremely hardworking and enthusiatic, and never hesitated to take time during their busy schedule to talk to me about their research interests as well as to offer me their expertise. The experience was fun and fulfilling and I gained a lot of hands-on experience as well as knowledge of optics, numerical fitting and chemistry!

Benny Wu
UBC, 4th year
Andrea Damascelli

I had a great time working in the ARPES lab this summer. Although my original project was the development of a five axis sample manipulator to be used in the ARPES chamber, that wasn't the only thing I was limited to. I had many opportunities to explore and work on whatever I felt was the most interesting -- helping out with the cold testing of the cryostat, figuring out the logic for an interlock system, making a soundproof box for a noisy compressor etc. Dr. Damascelli also encouraged people in the lab to attend the condensed matter lectures in Hennings and the various conferences that were held in the summer, which all helped to give me a broader view of the field. That's the best thing about working in an academic setting! You're always learning about something new. You don't get stuck doing the same thing over and over again. Instead, you're given time to explore what you're interested in. From the job, I didn't just learn about programming or motor control, I also learned about working with ultra high vacuum equipment, using temperature and ion gauge controllers, operating the machinery in the AMPEL machine shop, and most importantly of all, finding and ordering the things that we needed.

The atmosphere in the lab was terrific. Though we worked independently, help was always available whenever we became stuck. We all got along really well and had several BBQs together as a group. One of the grad students even took all the summer students on a six day kayaking trip around the Gulf Islands! So if you're looking for a job that offers challenges, variety, and fun, come by and check out the lab!

Casey Bojechko
UBC, 3rd year
Scott Oser

Sudbury Neutrino observatory is a large tank of heavy water located in a mine shaft 2km below the surface of the earth in Northern Ontario. Although the detector mainly looks for neutrinos the project I worked on was helping a grad student help create a fitter for muons traveling through the detector. A fitter with a high angular resolution is desired so that one can distinguish between atmospheric muons and muons created from a solar neutrino reaction inside of the earth. A solar neutrino interacting within the earth to create a muon implies that neutrinos could oscillate.

Various mathematical methods were used in attempts to create a fitter. I was given the task of coding and testing different program elements to see if they would prove useful in the final fitter.

I am thrilled to have worked with Scott Oser and the rest of the UBC SNO team. It was a great learning experience, familiarizing myself with Unix systems and programming as well as some of the software used to analyze SNO data. It was a challenging and rewarding experience applying my knowledge to a modern experiment.

Sean Stotyn
UBC, 3rd year
Jasper Wall

My summer position consisted of doing data analysis for a survey that was done in November of 2001 at the VLA (Very Large Array) in New Mexico at a frequency of 43 GHz. Surveys at lower frequencies were previously done to determine how much of an error there was in the readings of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, but none had ever been done at a frequency of 43 GHz. It was expected that at this high frequency, there should be somewhere around 10 sources within a 2 degree by 2 degree patch of sky and these sources would be so weak that they would be barely detectable above noise of the sky. Indeed we found that the sources are extremely weak and not very plentiful, but we are still continuing to search for sources through various methods and hope to be able to publish the results by December or so.

Knowing nothing about astronomy and very little about methods of data analysis before starting my position, I was fascinated at how raw data, which looks like nothing that you set out to measure, gets processed into the images and values that you were originally looking for. This position was a huge learning experience for me in that I learned quite a large amount about radio astronomy and I also learned that nothing in an experiment is ever ideal; there is always something that can go wrong with the equipment during observation and when you are processing the data, you just have to do the best with what you have. A large portion of my work was trial and error and, often times, quite frustrating, but this was exactly what helped me truly understand what was going on.

This whole experience has just been excellent and I am extremely greatful that I was given this opportunity to do some relevant, cutting edge research. Now when I hear somebody mention the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, I can feel that I made a small but essential contribution, and, just being at the start of my scientific career, that is very important to me.

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2004:

19 NSERC and 5 UBC summer scholarships were awarded. This is what some of the students said about their work:

Student Lab Project
Mitch Crowe
UBC, 2nd year
Scott Oser

SNO (Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) is a particle physics lab located 2 KM under the ground in northern Ontario. The lab and revolutionary physics being done there are quite exciting to be a part of. My work is split up in a few different directions. One of my projects is writing a Web-Based analysis tool for the data output from SNO. I've actually really enjoyed this as I am given a lot of freedom and independence, although support is always there if I need it. I have learned to program in 4 different languages and tons about the experiment itself for this project. Since the detector runs 24/7 someone always has to be watching the data as it comes in and monitoring the electronics and computing systems. Therefore about 1/3 of my time is devoted to "detector operator shifts". Being in control of such a complex and state-of-the-art detector is quite an experince. On top of that I also get to help out with electronics repair, as SNO has such an intricate electronics system, something always seems to be needing repair. Overall I have really enjoyed my nserc, I feel that I have learned much more than I would have in a term at school. I will continue working there until december making it an 8 month work term.

Janelle van Dongen
UBC, 4th year
Kirk Madison

This was my first experience working in a lab and I think that I couldn't have asked for a better place to start off. First of all, the lab itself is just starting off so I had an excellent opportunity to see some of what it takes to get a lab up and running. There were a billion things to order (a never ending task), a bunch of stuff left behind from the previous professor to organize, and equipment to build so that one day an actual Bose-Einstein Condensate can be made and studied in this lab. I was given the responsibility of building temperature controllers and current drivers for the lasers that will be used here. The actual circuits were given to me but I had to etch circuits, drill holes in them for the components to go in, buy the components, solder the components in, buy or make boxes for them to go in and test that they really do work. There was plenty of hands on work, but I learnt a lot of electronics and physics in the process. I also had a chance to work with a few diode lasers and to collect some data about their performance. What really made all my work experience so enjoyable though was the fact that everyone I worked with was very willing to help and to discuss things with me. The fact that we had, on average, 3 hour group meetings every week can attest to that! I guess I should warn you that the undergraduates here put in 10-13 hour days because there was just so much to do, but I like the thought of having made a real contribution to a lab as an undergraduate. In short, this is a great place to work for those that want to be given responsibility and work with very dedicated and supportive people.

Bayo Lau
UBC, 4th year
Tom Tiedje

I worked as a summer research student in the MBE Lab at UBC. Under Prof. Tiedje's supervision, I worked on a recently-proposed model for GaAs surface evolution under molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) deposition [J. of Cryst. Growth. 271 pp.13-21]. The model is a pair of coupled non-linear partial differential equations, and I devised an asymptotic analysis method to identifiy the low-order non-linear behavior. Analytical and numerical work yielded a set of linear and nonlinear terms that capture the different distinctive physical characteristics of surface evolution observed during MBE experiments. I then carried out addatom simulation to confirm one part of the model. Atom-by-atom simulation was required because the model uses continuum functions to encapsulate the effect of atomic diffusion. A kinetic monte-carlo simulation was implemented to perform addatom simulation of GaAs growth. The results were analyzed, and I found a functional describing the atomic step density's dependence on temperature, growth rate, and macroscopic surface slope. This function agrees with the growth model as well as experimental results. On a different subject, Prof. Tiedje used the aforementioned asymptotic analysis to derive a nonlinear PDE that describes snow ablation. I then investigated the PDE numerically and found that the model predicts snow cone formation. I had a wonderful time working in the MBE lab during the summer. Prof. Tiedje and his student, Anders, were enthusiastic about the research and were willing to advice on my work. I enjoyed my projects a lot and I have learnt a lot about numerical and functional analysis during the work term. Also, publication of these results is expected. Here is the first article.

Danica Marsden
UBC, 4th year
Mark Halpern

First off, the lab is pretty cool to work in, and the grad students are very nice and helpful. Dr. Halpern is great at taking time to explain what's going on and what you have to do and then stepping back and letting you figure stuff out for yourself, but you can always ask questions. He was supportive of my going to departmental talks and softball games. I worked mainly on taking apart and then designing and rebuilding parts for a dewar, and then putting it back together. I got to work in the machine shop a lot, and got to handle liquid nitrogen and helium. The dewar cools a detector that is in a fourier spectrometer and it will be used to characterize some filters for the ACT telescope in Chile.

Erin MacMillan
UBC, 3rd year
Alex MacKay

Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Analyst at the UBC High Field MRI Research Centre. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) uses much of the same concepts as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), including the same technology, but instead of producing images it produces a spectrum of the metabolites in the voxel (box of interest) scanned. Most of the studies performed at the UBC MRI centre are related to neurology, so the voxels are positioned within the brain. MRS is a noninvasive technique that has no known side effects, so it is safe for use on the brain. My role in the research group is to analyze the spectroscopy measurements and help to improve the methods of collecting spectra. After a patient has been scanned, I load the data into an analysis program called LCModel. This program produces a fit to the spectrum and calculates relative or absolute concentrations of the metabolites in that voxel. This information is extremely valuable in determining the physiological conditions of the normal and diseased brain. To determine how to improve the methods of measurement I have helped in the scanning of phantoms (bottles of brain metabolites). Scanning phantoms allows us to compare the effects of different scan parameters on constant concentrations of metabolites. We often test parameters on people as well, so I have volunteered to be scanned many times. After being scanned they give you a disk with pictures of your brain, so I have proof mine is there! Since the field of MRI is so multidisciplinary I have collaborated with physicists, psychologists, radiologists, neurologists, engineers and technicians. Everyone brings their own unique perspective to a problem to find innovative solutions. Working with the MRI research group has been a wonderful experience mainly because of the people in this group. They are the friendliest, most helpful and caring people you could ever meet. Beginning my research career in this group has been rewarding and so much fun I don't want to leave. Maybe I won't.

Erin Mentuch
UofT, 3rd year
Jaymie Matthews

MOST, standing for Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars, is a tiny satellite that continuously observes a single variable star for weeks at a time. One of its three groundstations is located on the 3rd floor of Hennings, where I spent my summer vacation. I gained alot of experience here, especially since this was my first research position. My summer began by intensely familiarizing myself with the project and the theory behind the science. The other students and faculty in the lab made sure I knew a little about all aspects of the project. From ground station operations to learning how to computer program, I learned way more than I'd ever be able to remember. Once I was familiar with the ground station operations, I began more specific tasks. Using IDL, I created a program that read in telemetry files received from the telescope to check if the clocks on the satellite ran simultaneous to clocks on earth. Later on, using a program called Wavelets, created by Andrew Walker in the MOST lab, I began doing wavelet analysis, in search of variability, on two stars MOST observed a couple months ago. I created a widgets based program called WAVELET ANALYSIS in IDL to analyze the data produced by the wavelet transform program. In addition to analyzing the two target stars, I spent several weeks running simulated data sets through the wavelet transform program.

Overall, I gained so much experience this summer. The position helped to clarify my future path in astronomy. I would recommend the MOST lab to any student interested in asteroseismology.

Anthony Uy
UBC, 2nd year
Jess Brewer

It was great having the experience of working in a Physics environment in TRIUMF, where theories are really put into practice. I worked under Jess Brewer this summer, and it has been a fun, exciting, and mind-boggling learning experience. In the old days (oh, I mean just before the summer), it was only in Physics textbooks where I've seen and heard that matter can reach a percent of the speed of light. Here we have protons travelling at 75%! I've had a tour once of the place, but one cannot really get a feel for the place unless you've worked here. Even now, I can't say I know enough about TRIUMF yet!

Jess let me choose which field I would like to work on, for anything that I find interesting. I had the experience to "babysit" the data acquisition computers to make sure that nothing goes wrong--although it's pretty much Internet surfing in those times. I worked in the software field (using Java and C++) and developed useful programs for MuSR (Muon Spin Resonance/Relaxation/...) experiments such as Fast Fourier Transform and helped build Graphical User Interfaces for fitting programs (we all don't like those command line interfaces, right?). 3 years ago, I learned the C Programming Language (and learned nothing else since then!), and put whatever is in my knowledge to use. Of course, for the most part, I kept on checking the internet for much needed information about C++ and Java, as I basically needed to learn from scratch. I also worked on making a User's manual for a program that reads data files.

All in all, the experience was a great one, although I would have to put up with my lack of knowledge that makes me feel like a helpless wreck at times (typical programming expereince, eh?). I've learned so much this summer, and these things I've learned about are all of my own choosing. But the best part is that whenever I hear TRIUMF mentioned in conversations, I can secretly say to myself, "I've worked there!"

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Jess H. Brewer

Last modified: Wed Oct 8 11:28:16 PDT 2008

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