Gator News

GRC undergraduate research efforts featured in industry journal

By Philip Denman, May 3, 2023

Green River College students' undergraduate research work was recently published in the 'Symmetry', an online physics journal published by Fermi National Lab and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

The article, Encouraging a New Community, highlights physic programs advocating for getting community college students involved in research. In the following exerpt, GRC's Chitra Solomonson, faculty, Physics, shares her experience embedding physics research within her courses. To read the full publication, please visit: Encouraging a New Community.

Making physics research applicable

At Green River College in Washington, physics professor Chitra Solomonson wanted to embed physics research within her courses, too. She knew the benefits of getting students to participate in research early, but she found that many of her students were reluctant to move across the country for CCIs or REUs. Also, much of physics felt too abstract for her engineering students, too separate from their world. So she took a different approach: teaching them to conduct research related to clean energy.

With a grant from NSF, she partnered with the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute to learn how to make organic photovoltaic cells. She had to adapt the method used at the University of Washington for a community college with considerably less resources than an R1 institution. She integrated her experience into her calculus-based physics sequence, giving students certain parameters to design the solar cells but letting them figure out the best design on their own.

Many of her former students have gone on to get four-year degrees and attend graduate school in STEM fields. This partnership with the Clean Energy Institute has also led to more students from Green River College participating in REUs at the university.

“They worked in teams, proposed questions and analyzed results,” she says. “It was a journey of discovery. They understood that science is messy, that you make mistakes, you start on one path, and it leads to another. And by learning that, their STEM identity increases.”

That was certainly the case for Zill. After his stint at the REU, he got a part-time job at the Dynamic Compression Sector, a Washington State University facility located at Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University and now works as a research operations engineer at the DCS, where he supervises and mentors student workers from COD and other local colleges in the high-energy physics experiments conducted there.

'Symmetry' is a joint publication of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Symmetry receives funding through the US Department of Energy.

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