Research

UK Physics and Astronomy Receives Prestigious REU From NSF

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 14, 2020) — The University of Kentucky Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences has received its first Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This highly competitive program will help provide research opportunities for students from regional colleges.

“This REU award is an exciting milestone for our department and for UK,” said Al Shapere, chair of the department. “Just 60 other universities have REU programs in physics, none of them in Kentucky, so this is a distinction that raises our department’s status as a regional leader and sets us apart on a national scale. We are looking forward to partnering with colleges in the region to provide unique, valuable research experiences for their students.”  

The $320,000 award will fund up to eight undergraduates each summer for three years (2021-23) to participate in a research program. There will be an emphasis on underrepresented minorities, students attending community and technical colleges, and regional universities in rural Kentucky and Appalachia. By recruiting students from this region and encouraging them to share their summer research experiences with their teachers and peers, the UK team hopes to establish research ties with these institutions and enhance STEM education in the region. 

"After years of mentoring our own undergraduates, this grant will allow our department to reach out and build mentoring relationships with institutions in the Appalachian region, and across the U.S.," said Chris Crawford, professor in the department and principal investigator for the REU award. "We hope to inspire students in this region to explore physics research and go on to Ph.D. programs, bringing these opportunities back with them to their local communities."

Selected students will have opportunities to join a research program under one of 11 UK faculty members, work alongside graduate students and postdoctoral students in the lab, and produce publishable results in areas of nuclear physics, condensed matter physics and astronomy. Building these student-mentor relationships will also help recruit local talent into the department’s doctoral program.

The REU, titled “Research in Symmetries,” will also include professional development opportunities through a series of seminars and workshops, and course credit in computation and statistical analysis. There will also be social outings and field trips to places like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The grant also supports one full-time graduate assistant to serve as a peer mentor and help build a community among the undergraduate participants.

The Department of STEM Education, based in the UK College of Education, is partnering with the Department of Physics and Astronomy to conduct assessment, research and evaluation of the REU program. Jennifer Wilhelm, professor in the department and co-principal investigator for the REU award, will conduct research and evaluation of the effectiveness of the mentoring arrangement with the undergraduate fellows, the impact of the REU activities, and the REU students’ development and learning of contemporary physics research content and skills.

“In the STEM Education department, we are just finishing our second funded REU grant,” said Wilhelm. “I plan to apply research and lessons learned from the education REU experiences to the physics and astronomy REU award; such things include careful pairing with mentors and holding both mentors and undergraduate REU fellows accountable for their learning and development.”

For more information, contact Chris Crawford at c.crawford@uky.edu.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" two years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.