For two short days on the Cornell Campus, the students from around the country - including four students from Puerto Rico - were able to meet their mentors from CHESS and their peers from other community colleges and undergraduate institutions. Their trip to Cornell offered the opportunity to tour the CHESS facility, explore the Ithaca area, and present their summer projects to an audience of CHESS directors, graduate students, and their fellow summer research students.
Up until this time, these meetings have all been held remotely via Zoom.
Typically, the students participating in the PREM, SERCCS, and SUNRISE programs are able to live on campus and work directly in the lab with their mentors and peers. Since the pandemic however, researchers and students alike have had to adjust their approach and lean into a fully remote experience.
Arthur Woll, Director of MSN-C, and mentor for the SUNRISE program, explains that even with the remote atmosphere the summer student programs at CHESS always make an impression on the participants.
“These experiences are so beneficial for not only the students but also for CHESS staff,” says Woll. “The projects these students pursue are not just ‘busy work’, they have a lasting impact on CHESS” he adds.
“We want to move towards autonomous operation”
While on campus the students were tasked with presenting these projects as “buddy talks”, a joint presentation between the student and their mentor - reinforcing the relationship that has been built over the summer.
Mentors began each presentation by painting the bigger picture of the project, explaining why CHESS needs to ‘torment’ structural materials at the beamline, or how their student’s project can lead to proposals for future funding of a beamline.
The students painted their own picture, showcasing their hearty knowledge of x-ray techniques and capabilities, unafraid of the jargon that typically besets a synchrotron novice.
The induction of each student into the technical world of CHESS is evident in their talk. The students easily use terms such as ‘our users’, and are quick to refer to the experimental hutches as ‘our beamline’, despite the fact that they have, as of that time, only seen it virtually. Their presentations make it clear that they have taken ownership of their summer project as well as the future of the CHESS beamline.
“It feels like I am doing a bit more than just trying to get a good grade,” says Daric Niklas from Hudson Valley Community College. Daric has been working closely with Kate Shanks at the FAST beamline, integrating the MMPAD detector into the current ecosystem of the beamline. “My mentor knows the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, and that has been important to contextualize what we are trying to accomplish,” says Daric. “We want to move towards autonomous operation, and my project makes viewing your data more integrated into the existing tools of CHESS and uses the current standard of the other detectors.”
Cristian Pompey, a student transferring to the University of Buffalo, is working on a coding project - writing a planning tool for the QM2 beamline with CHEXS Director Jacob Ruff. Before writing the code, Cristian explains that he had to first better understand the intricate science of CHESS, and gives comfort to any future students feeling overwhelmed by X-ray science.
“I coded this planning tool using Python,” he says. “And yes, it requires a lot of underlying knowledge of how X-ray diffraction works, but I came into this internship knowing none of it,” he says with a laugh. “I think I can safely say I know a good amount of it now. Well, just enough to make this planning tool work.”
“What this planning tool does is predict the range of HKL values that the sample will have, prior to the users running the scan,” he says confidently. “We hope to make beamtime more user-friendly and more convenient for researchers coming to CHESS.”
“Push the Boundary of Learning”
The in-person visit included more than this summers’ group of students. Wiley Kirks from Fort Lewis College participated in last years’ SUNRISE program and came to Cornell to meet his mentors one year later. However, he did not come to solely participate in the organized activities, he has different plans for his trip. After finishing the SUNRISE program and graduating with an engineering degree from Fort Lewis, Wiley is headed to Cornell as a graduate student in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering program.
He is taking this time to find an apartment close to campus.
“Initially, I took this internship to better understand if I should go on into industry, or continue onto graduate school,” he says. “At Fort Lewis, we get exposure to many different areas of engineering, and I think it has helped a bunch, especially with the SUNRISE experience. And the engineering program at Fort Lewis, paired with last year’s internship has really helped me figure out that I want to continue on with school.”
“I know that I enjoy school, I enjoy the work and I enjoy learning. The SUNRISE program has let me learn some interesting things, meet some really cool people and really push that boundary of learning for me.”