Winter is gearing up in Madison but some faculty and staff in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics are looking forward to Summer 2011.
This summer will mark the 10th consecutive year of a unique program that gives undergraduates a hands-on experience with physics and astronomy.
The program — known as a Research Experience for Undergraduates Site (REU) — invites students from across the country to visit campus and work with UW-Madison mentors in all areas of astronomy and astrophysics.
The REU Site has been funded for nine years by the National Science Foundation and was recently extended for another five years.
Students who participate in the REU Site experience astronomy and astrophysics and study topics such as the early universe, computer simulations of interstellar turbulence and observations of comets.
The students also get to work with some of UW-Madison’s largest research projects including observations with the 3.5m WIYN optical telescope, the 11m SALT telescope and the large South Polar IceCube Neutrino Observatory.
Many of the students — 63 percent — have presented their research results at a American Astronomical Society meeting. Seven have even published papers based on REU projects.
While in Madison, the REU students work with a mentor, who has a PhD in astronomy or physics, to complete a directed research project. They also attend weekly lecture series, weekend field trips and other less structured social events — perhaps Summerfest in Milwaukee and a live show of Michael Feldman’s “Whad’Ya Know?”
Students are also encouraged to participate in the successful (and fun!) NSF/Wisconsin outreach program Universe in the Park.
The REU site in Madison was founded in 2002 by UW-Madison Professor Linda Sparke (Astronomy) and UW-Whitewater Professor Robert Benjamin (Physics).
For five years, the program has been lead by UW-Madison Professor Snezana Stanimirovic (Astronomy), the principal investigator, and Dr. Edwin Mierkiewicz (Physics), the co-investigator and program director. More than twenty researchers have helped mentor REU students.
The program’s milestones include hosting 89 REU students from 2002-09, a total of 44 female students, 45 male students and 30 students from unrepresented minorities. Twenty-eight of the participants were first generation college students.
Fifty of the 72 REU students that have finished their undergraduate degrees have been accepted into graduate programs. In fact, eight were accepted into graduate programs other than physics and astronomy, including science journalism, science education, geology, philosophy, mathematics, biomedical engineering and Harvard Medical School.
The UW-Madison REU program is looking forward to its next milestone: in 2011, several of the REU participants are on track to obtain PhDs.