Pulling Together for a Productive REU Program Despite the Pandemic
Figure: The portraits of this year’s 14 students who were hosted by PARADIM for the 2020 (remote) Research Experiences for Undergraduates.
An PARADIM has offered an on-campus, hands-on summer REU program every year since its inception. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions presented major challenges to its 2020 REU edition. So in March, PARADIM huddled (remotely) with the REU students it had accepted to see if a remote REU program was feasible. Hearing unanimous support among the students to continue the REU and their willingness to have the theme of their projects changed to ones that could be completed remotely, PARADIM came up with alternative projects. PARADIM mentors provided data and remote operation of equipment.
- Among this summer’s 14 REU projects—all of which enhance PARADIM’s capabilities for its users—were:
- Design of an improved ozone injector nozzle for uniform exposure in oxide molecular-beam epitaxy,
- Design of mechanical supports for MOCVD furnaces,
- Implementation of a remote interface for single crystal positioning with the Laue setup, and
- Building of open training stacks for image segmentation of in situ video footage of crystal growth experiments.
“I just wanted to say thank you for your persistence in keeping the PARADIM REU alive this summer! I am extremely grateful that I still had the opportunity to participate in this program.” — Rachael Keneipp (2020)
What Has Been Achieved: In late spring 2020, measures to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 required the cancellation of all on-site summer activities at the Cornell and JHU campuses, based on university and state regulations. PARADIM rose to the challenge by creating an entirely virtual REU program. With NSF’s approval, originally housing-bound funds were used to expand the 2020 cohort to 14 students (6 female, 3 URM, 3 from non-R1 institutions), who were selected from a pool of over 140 applicants.
During the program, each student was paired with a local PARADIM mentor to facilitate full immersion in the day-to-day work in the “new normal” including lab access, where the students could virtually participate via GoPro cameras. Established parts of the program like “Hot Materials” talks exposed the REU cohort to exciting research occurring within the Platform. They also received training on presentation and collaboration skills, which led to final presentations of the work achieved by each student. These activities were combined with Zoom lounges and regular check-ins to enhance interactions in the remote setting. The final presentations and reports are available on the PARADIM webpage (https://www.paradim.org/reu_participants).
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