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Department of Physics and Astronomy Hosts Summer Research Programs

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – AUGUST 13,  2013 Erin Ferrell has not taken a physics class yet, but already this summer she has gained valuable experience to help her in her future studies.

CAPTION GOES HERE ALSO Nicole Gagnon talks about her work in mapping magnetic fields during a poster presentation for the Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Physics program at UTB.

Brownsville resident Ferrell, 17, a senior at The University of Texas at Brownsville’s Mathematics and Science Academy, took part in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Physics program hosted by the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The program started in June and ended Friday, Aug. 9.

Ferrell studied how a wiimote – a component of the Nintendo Wii console – and a magnetometer could be combined into one apparatus that can detect faulty gravitational waves. The work involved a combination of reading scientific reports and laboratory work.

“I wouldn’t have learned all this in high school,” said Ferrell, who is interested in studying forensic science in college. “You have to take the initiative to do the research.”

The 10-week program brought UTB and out of state students together with the university’s professors to perform research on pre-determined topics that focused on pulsars, 3D magnetic field mapping, gravitational waves and other subjects.

“This allowed the participating students not only a peek into a scientific career, but also a good overview of the excellent research program we have in the Department of Physics and Astronomy,” said Dr. Soma Mukherjee, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “The local participants had a wonderful exposure interacting with other participants from different parts of the country. There was a lot of scientific and cultural exchange.”

Shangir Siddique, 16, a senior at the university’s Mathematics and Science Academy from Brownsville, said he enjoyed learning about chemistry, computer science and basic research skills from professors and the other participants. Siddique, who studied thermal and magnetic properties of yttrium ferrite, wants to major in biology in college and go to medical school.

“What I will take away from the summer program is a feeling that I am more globally connected,” he said. “I am addressing real world issues and problems that need solutions.”

As part of the summer program, participants traveled to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory in Hanford, Wash. to learn about gravitational waves.

The summer program was the first time some participants conducted their own research.

Nicole Gagnon, 20, of Vero Beach, Fla. and a junior physics major at Duke University in North Carolina, said the program was a good introduction for her in gravitational wave astronomy. Her summer project involved using a quarternion optimization algorithm to determine the coordinate transmissions necessary for 3D mapping.

Students present their research posters at the Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Physics program at UTB. Students present their research posters at the Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Physics program at UTB.

“This will definitely help me get a foot in the door for a graduate program,” said Gagnon. “I hope to continue this work in the next year.”

Other UTB students who were part of the program were:

  • Francisco Lozano
  • Wahltyn Rattray
  • Jaime Romo
  • Shangir Siddique

Other students who participated in the program were:

  • Adan Anchondo, University of Texas at El Paso
  • Peter Chi, Rutgers University
  • Kyle French, Illinois Wesleyan University
  • David Garza, The University of Texas – Pan American
  • Catie Raney, University of Oklahoma
  • Shane Mitchell, Dickinson College
  • Samuel Passaglia, University of Pennsylvania
  • Justin Tervala, University of Maryland

Three teachers in Brownsville participated in the companion Research Experience for Teachers.

Julio E. Sada, a chemistry teacher at the Brownsville Early College High School, used the analytic computation application HSC 7 which enables researchers to determine the correlation between reactants and desired products.

“I did not do any research per se mainly because of the time constraints of this program, but especially because of the relatively extensive background courses in physics necessary,” he said. “Nonetheless, I was around other participants in this summer program for students – the REU – and I was able to see the types of research they were doing.”

Sada also audited a Chemistry II summer course.

“This enabled me to experience as a ‘college student’ the various topics in this course and the method of delivery,” he said. “These are topics which are not taught in a typical chemistry course. They might be taught in an AP Chemistry course and perhaps touched lightly in a Pre AP Chemistry course. But now I know what my students would need to know to succeed in this course. And I also know the extent to which I will need to modify my current Pre AP Chemistry to extend what I currently teach about these topics.”

Other teachers that participated were:


  • Alan Hendrick, Brownsville Veterans Memorial High School
  • Anthony Lehmann, Harmony Science Academy


The summer programs were made possible with a $474,000 grant awarded to the department last year by the National Science Foundation


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