NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Undergraduate students from universities across the U.S. are conducting research at UNT this summer thanks to the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Each summer, the program provides funding to university-based research sites, chosen through a highly competitive review process. UNT has three NSF-REU sites led by senior researchers in the departments of chemistry, political science, and computer science and engineering. The program is complementary to the university’s goal of expanding undergraduate research opportunities.
This summer, the three UNT sites are hosting a combined 25 students, who are participating in immersive residence programs on campus. Typically, participants complete enough original research to be listed as authors or co-authors on papers prepared for journals, and many present their research at professional conferences.
Claire Burson, a sophomore chemistry major with an engineering emphasis at LeTourneau University, is researching in the lab of UNT’s Mohammad Omary, University Distinguished Research Professor. She is exploring the development and improvement of Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs), making them more cost effective to manufacture, more efficient and less complex.
“Fewer moving parts equals less chance of failure,” she explains.
Burson plans to present the results of her work at conferences in the fall and spring and hopes to have papers published in industry journals.
“I hope to network as much as possible over the summer and gain valuable experience in the labs,” she says.
The NSF-REU program is designed to prepare students for the transition to graduate school and research careers. In addition to gaining experience in research and writing academic papers, participants take part in activities that build a sense of research community with their faculty and graduate student mentors.
“The generous mentoring and guidance of the research group members has allowed me to engage with the research on a deeper level than I expected coming into the program,” says Will Rackers, a junior chemistry and philosophy major at the University of Dallas, who is participating in the Department of Chemistry’s REU program this summer.
The Interface of Computational and Experimental Chemistry
Five students were selected this year for the chemistry REU site. A unique aspect of the program is that many of the projects involve collaboration between two or more research groups, including both experimental and computational researchers, and draw on UNT's world-class resources in both instrumentation and high-performance computing.
“The program will help me discern whether a graduate degree in chemistry is a path I am interested in,” says Rackers. “The REU experience will help me to identify my specific interests and will give me the experience and knowledge that will help me get into the best graduate school and program that I can.”
Rackers is working in the UNT laboratory of Hong Wang, associate professor of chemistry. Later in the summer, he will work with the research group of Francis D’Souza, Distinguished University Research Professor of Chemistry, who collaborates with the Wang group in designing new materials for organic solar cells.
As a part of their research experience, students will have the opportunity to interact with career-active researchers at major international chemical companies, tour local companies to see how chemistry plays a role, and train in computational and experimental research methods, scientific communication and ethics.
Conflict Management and Peace Science
The NSF-REU for Conflict Management and Peace Science is led by principal investigator and director, John Ishiyama, Distinguished Research Professor in political science. It is the only NSF-REU political science program in the nation.
Past research projects of this unique program include the political inclusion of women in peace duration after civil wars; the effects of past racial and ethnic segregation on current levels of social and institutional trust; the impact of religious conflict on religious identification; and the influence of drought on terrorism.
For 2018, 10 students are conducting research in conflict management and peace studies. The program integrates training in civil conflict management, geographic information systems analysis and research ethics. Students will also participate in workshops on theory development, research methodology and the graduate school application process.
As a continuation of last year’s summer research experience, participants have developed theoretical propositions that they are testing empirically using geocoded data. In April 2019, they will report their findings at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference. Held annually in Chicago, it is the second largest political science conference in the world.
Software Assurance and Security in Emerging Technologies
Ten students are participating in the NSF-REU program in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Projects combine security and software testing research with emerging technologies such as web, mobile and wearable applications. The individual research projects have interesting and crucial applications, with which participants can easily identify. Students work in collaborative teams to solve real-world problems.
One group of REU students is working with graduate students on solutions for malware detection. Machine learning systems quickly have become common in cybersecurity and anti-malware applications, but they can easily be fooled. The research team is analyzing the vulnerabilities of the algorithms used in these systems and developing defense mechanisms based on more robust algorithms that can more accurately detect malware.
Coordinators Hassan Takabi, assistant professor, and Renee Bryce, professor, want to seed students’ interest in research with hands-on experience and increase the number that pursue graduate studies and careers in computer science. Students are learning state-of-the-art technical knowledge, and the program aims to instill the ability to think independently and the confidence to work on challenging problems.
“The program exposes students to exciting and attainable research goals,” Takabi says. “And it gives them the opportunity to build their resumes with research experiences and publications and provides a supportive community of peers and mentors that encourages them to be successful.”