RIT hosts largest number of NSF undergraduate research programs in New York

Newest research program introduces students to gravitational wave astrophysics




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David Bond and Sophia Maggelakis

Rochester Institute of Technology leads universities in New York with seven federally funded summer research programs for undergraduate students, according to the National Science Foundation.

“This reflects RIT’s emergence as a student-centered research university, made possible by faculty from diverse disciplines,” said David Bond, director of RIT’s Sponsored Research Services. “REU sites draw top students from across the country and expose them to different perspectives. For many, the experience is transformative and informs decisions to go to graduate school.”

The NSF awards provide stipends for approximately eight to 10 students per program to work with RIT researchers for 10 weeks. The competitive three-year summer programs accept new participants each year from universities across the country and have the potential to influence more than 200 undergraduates.

“Undergraduate research is a strategic goal for RIT, and the high number of REUs reflects well on our faculty,” said Sophia Maggelakis, dean of RIT’s College of Science. “Our faculty take seriously the responsibility to mentor and train undergraduates to make new discoveries and to pursue careers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.”

This year, nearly 150 students applied for positions in the competitive mathematics/graph theory and imaging science programs. The Extremal Graph Theory and Dynamical Systems REU program, led by Darren Narayan, professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences, was RIT’s first award for Research Experience for Undergraduates in 2006 and has been renewed twice.

“The REUs help put RIT on the map,” Maggelakis said. “We are doing research that is of interest to students from other universities who come to RIT to work with our faculty.”

The undergraduates are not the only ones who gain from the experience, she noted.

“When you work with very bright students, you are not just the teacher, you are also learning from them.”

Cutting edge astrophysics for undergraduates

This summer, RIT’s College of Science launched the first Research Experience for Undergraduates in multimessenger astrophysics. The new field combines information gathered from gravitational waves and data from the electromagnetic spectrum to make insights previously unavailable to science. The program introduces students to research in gravitational wave detection and data analysis, observational astronomy and astrophysics and theoretical and numerical modeling.

This REU is offered through RIT’s signature research program, the Frontiers in Gravitational Wave Astrophysics, which is led by Manuela Campanelli, director of the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation. RIT researchers made significant contributions to the first direct detection of gravitational waves in 2015 and are dedicated to advancing the new discipline.

The multimessenger astrophysics program includes a four-week boot camp in American Sign Language. The center recruits deaf and hard-of-hearing students, women and members of other underrepresented groups and seeks to broaden research opportunities for students attending community colleges and primarily undergraduate institutions.

“A key step in moving this new field forward will be training students who will form the next generation of scientific leaders,” said Josh Faber, associate professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and lead scientist on the REU grant.

REUs at RIT

The NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates sites at RIT are:

  • Accessible Multimodal Interfaces, hosted by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf;
  • Computational Sensing, a collaboration between the College of Liberal Arts and the B. Thomas B. Golisano School of Computing and Information Sciences;
  • Extremal Graph Theory and Dynamical Systems, led by the School of Mathematical Sciences, engages students in dynamical systems in mathematical biology and in network theory;
  • Imaging in the Physical Sciences, hosted by the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science and is an interdisciplinary application of light, imaging and human vision and perception;
  • Materials, Applications and Development for Organic Photovoltaic Devices, led by the School of Chemistry and Materials Science. Students will help advance organic photovoltaic devices—an emerging technology that could improve solar energy;
  • Model-based Reasoning in STEM Education is hosted by RIT’s Science and Mathematics Educational Research Collaborative. Students conduct discipline-based education research in biology, chemistry or physics education research;
  • Multimessenger Astrophysics, hosted by the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation.

Participants in the Research Experience for Undergraduate programs will present their work at RIT’s Undergraduate Research Symposium on Aug. 4.

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David Bond and Sophia Maggelakis