Adopt-A-Physicist

We feel that it is important to give our physics honours and majors students the opportunity to participate in research early-on in their careers. Like many other research-intensive schools, we hire some senior undergraduates (having completed at least 2nd year) to work in our labs during the summer. However, we also provide opportunities for our undergraduates to live in a research environment earlier than that. We call our early research program "Adopt-a-Physicist".

Research groups tend to be close-knit collections of professors, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students.  In this program, a physics student in their 1st year is "adopted" by a research group in the department. They are invited to group meetings and other group activities and gradually become familiar with the science being explored. They are also given the opportunity to actively participate in the research in some way. It is a great way to really find out about the cutting-edge of a field of physics and looks great on a resume. Research groups also benefit because, while the adopted students are inexperienced, they are also generally smart, hard-working members of the research family.

Since the program started in the 2007/2008 academic year, several dozens of first-year students were adopted by research and outreach groups. The areas in which they worked include cosmology, biological physics, condensed matter, particle physics, physics education and outreach. Here are a few examples:

Karol Krizka - Adopted by Particle Physicists

The particle physics group at SFU works on a giant experiment known as ATLAS, which is part of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland, that recently discovered the Higgs boson which lead to the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics. Physicists use ATLAS to look at the debris from particle collisions and attempt to understand matter and forces at the smallest possible distances. Karol started by attending weekly group meetings. Since he had some experience in web-design, his first job was updating and maintaining the research website http://hep.phys.sfu.ca. However, soon he was ready to make a contribution to ATLAS. He started working on software to visualize the the debris from these collisions. He did very well, and was hired (after 1st year!) to work on this during the summer. The result was the ATLAS video-game called AMELIA (http://amelia.sf.net) made in collaboration with the University of California.

Jos One - Adopted by Biological Physicists

Nancy Forde's group in the department of Physics worked on developing and applying novel techniques for understanding the mechanic response of biological molecules such as proteins.  Jos attended weekly group meetings, where she became an active participant.  To learn more specifics about the projects in the group, she was given the task of choosing one and preparing a model of it, to scale, for our Biological Physics outreach display.  She did such an excellent job of considering all the relevant physical dimensions of pulling a protein in an optical tweezers experiment that we hired her for the summer (after her first year!) to work on a research project in the lab.  Her summer was spent testing particle-tracking algorithms, learning about energetics of DNA, and applying these to a molecular motor design.

Kevin Morse - Adopted by Low Temperature Physicists

David Broun's group in the Physics department uses a range of low temperature experimental techniques to study exotic superconducting materials such as the cuprate high temperature superconductors.  Kevin joined the group with a strong knowledge of electronics, and was able to immediately make important contributions to the design of the control electronics and software for a new low temperature cryostat.  Kevin has gained a great deal of other experience from his time in the lab, in areas such as low temperature experiment, high vacuum techniques, and electronics for scanning probe microscopy.  Kevin is now part of an effort, with other group members, to set up a spin-off company to market hardware for nanopositioning.

One of the recent adoptees, Joseph Lucero, had this to say: “I just participated in my first meeting with them [Dr David Sivak’s group] today and I am pleased to say that I have not been this inspired to learn more physics (and math) in quite sometime.”

To inquire about the Adopt-a-Physicist program, please email physics-outreach@sfu.ca.