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O’Dowd Students Flourish in Selective Summer Science Programs

Scanning Tunneling Microscope Project

Several O’Dowd students participated in highly selective residential summer science programs, including COSMOS at UC Davis and SSP at New Mexico Tech, studying topics such as astrophysics, quantum physics and applications to nanotechnology and biomedical sciences. The students were advised of these opportunities by O’Dowd counseling staff and faculty.

“As teachers, we often get to see students exhibit impressive science skills in our classes, but it’s really exciting to see how these students have taken their talent and enthusiasm for science to another level. Seeing the excitement on their faces as they retell their summer experiences speaks volumes,” Science Department chair Tim Newman said.

Pearl Li ’19 and Peter Ding ‘19

At SSP, Pearl Li ’19 teamed with fellow program participants to complete a research project from beginning to end – near-earth asteroid imaging and orbit determination. Each team’s observations are submitted to the Minor Planet Center of the International Astronomical Union, and used to improve future predictions of the asteroid’s position.

A highlight of the 39-day program for Pearl was visiting the Very Large Array, one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories. “We got to use the telescope to track the asteroid,” she said.

Pearl said she applied for the program because she knew it would be challenging. And she was seeking an opportunity to do hands-on research. “For me, one of the biggest takeaways from the program was collaboration is essential when it comes to studying natural sciences,” she said. “And I got to experience the difficulty and the struggle of doing actual science and overcame my fears and lack of confidence.”

Meanwhile, seniors Emily Bai, Peter Ding, Sofia Odeste and Justin Shi attended COSMOS, an intense academic program intended to inspire and encourage young people to pursue future study in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related field.

Sofia Odeste ’19

Emily, Peter and Sofia participated in the same cluster – Quantum Physics and Applications to Nanotechnology. More than 200 students applied to this particular cluster, with just 20 being admitted.

The trio worked together on a project to construct a scanning tunnel microscope – an instrument for imaging surfaces at the atomic level. “It’s amazing that a group of high schoolers was able to build a microscope in under a week,” Sofia said.

Emily was excited to have the opportunity to do coding as well as lab experiments. “During the first week, we did coding on math problems to get familiarized with it, and then the next week moved on to code mechanic physics problems,” she explained. “Using force as a trigger, we coded the projection motion, the simple harmonic motion, the gravitational motion, and so on. We then plotted them in the graph and compared our results with the real physics scenario.”

Scanning Tunnel Microsope Interface

A field trip to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has a nanoscience research facility, was a highlight for Peter.

Sofia had been thinking of pursuing study in the field of chemical engineering, but found quantum physics very interesting. “I have always thought of physics as a field reserved only for geniuses, and that the subject was theoretical and didn’t have real life applications,” she said. “Now that field seems a lot more in reach for me and I can see the practical applications.”

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