LOCK HAVEN, Pa. - Eric Driscoll of Roaring Brook Township, Pa. is the recipient of a prestigious National Science Foundation REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) Scholarship. The Lock Haven University chemistry major has been accepted to Harvey Mudd College in Claremojnt, California, where he will work with Dr. Hal Van Ryswyk on his dye sensitized solar cell research. Eric is the son of William and Grace Driscoll.Lock Haven University is a member of the Pennsylvania State
System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the largest provider of higher education in
the commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 250 degree and certificate
programs in more than 120 areas of study. Nearly 405,000 system alumni live and
work in Pennsylvania.
Research Experience for Undergraduates (REUs) are opportunities for students to actively participate in a professor’s research project. The NSF funds many of these programs which span the topics of natural sciences, mathematics, computer science and others.
The selection process is highly competitive. Eric observed, “I've been told by a Lock Haven alumnus that getting accepted to an REU is more difficult than getting accepted to graduate school itself.” Universities offering REUs have reported anywhere from 200 to 400 applicants for approximately 10 positions. Each university has its own online application and most require two letters of recommendation along with a personal statement. Most schools allow any student to apply, although juniors are typically preferred since they will be applying to graduate school soon.
Eric stated, “I feel that the Lock Haven University nanotechnology program has provided me with the additional training and coursework that made my application stand out from the other 200.”
Dr. Marian Tzolov, associate professor in the Lock Haven University department of Geology and Physics, believes that one reason Eric was selected from the pool of applicants is his work on dye sensitized solar cells at LHU. He explained, “The creation of device structures requires knowledge from apparently different disciplines, however we all know how the sciences are inherently interconnected. This class of solar cells is rapidly advancing to commercialization with coordinated international efforts (www.dyesol.com). It is often labeled as mimicking of the photosynthesis process. There are interesting chemistry problems related to the formulation of efficient dyes and their tailoring to the specific inorganic matrix, ZnO in this case.”
At the 2011 meeting of the American Physical Society, Eric gave a poster presentation on his research titled “Modification of the growth mechanism of ZnO nanowires by addition of oxidizing agents” which focused on the process of a well controlled synthesis of ZnO nanowires. He conducted his research in the LHU nanotechnology program under Dr. Tzolov.
Eric’s work on ZnO will continue during his REU. Eric worked on synthesis of ZnO nanostructures for the last year and together with a student in Applied Physics, they presented interesting results during the Spring Student Symposium at LHU on April 20, 2011. Their presentation was awarded first place. Eric's contribution was the development of a model for the chemical reactions during the chemical vapor transport growth of ZnO nanostructures, which generally revises the commonly accepted views in the literature. Tzolov stated, “Eric will continue working on synthesis of ZnO nanostructures during the fall semester of 2011, just after his REU at Harvey Mudd College. He will have the chance to benefit from and combine the best practices at LHU and Harvey Mudd College.”
REUs are valuable experiences for students who may be thinking about graduate school or entering a career in academic research. Most programs run for ten weeks in the summer. It is an opportunity to get a taste of what is involved in real academic research for those who have not experienced it. An REU is a way to fine tune laboratory skills such as making measurements and keeping a laboratory notebook. There are even programs abroad which offer opportunities to see different countries.
Those accepted to an REU are expected to be fully committed to the position and not be employed elsewhere or take summer courses. Most REU programs provide free on campus housing, a travel reimbursement, and a stipend somewhere between $2000 and $5000.
An overview of the NSF REU programs is online at http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5517&org=NSF