Sara Bey explaining her research at the Summer 2019 Undergraduate Research Symposium

Sara Bey explaining her research at the Summer 2019 Undergraduate Research Symposium, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019 in the University Center

1. What is your name?

Sara Bey

2. What is your major?

Physics

3. Why did you decide to participate in Undergraduate Research?

In the spring semester of my freshman year, I got to know one of the seniors in the department well and she became a great mentor to me. Due to the math pre-requirements for physics classes, majors in this department don’t touch a physics class until their second year. At that point in my freshman year I was looking for some way that I could be involved in physics earlier. I started on a research project under Dr. Allen and being trained by the upperclassmen who was mentoring me.

I thought, “Thank goodness someone has done physics!”

4. What did you research?

The project is a very early on look at semiconducting thin films that show interesting magnetic and electronic properties. This is a very new material, so we are in a preliminary stage of heavy data collection and analysis. One optimistic application for this material is in spintronics, which is a new field of electronics which hopes to store data and information in the “spin up” or “spin down” of an electron.

5. What skills did you learn while engaged in research?

  • I’ve developed technical lab skills running equipment and manufacturing small scale wires and contacts. I have gained exposure to different data processing software which will be highly applicable to my future career.
  • Public speaking and presentation skills thanks to tons and tons of different conference opportunities.
  • Maturity as a student and as a member of the physics community.
  • Research isn’t always a beautiful picture… but as an undergraduate student pursuing graduate school, I make a high priority to focus on how I am spending my time and what this will translate to in two to three years. I fill my time with things I am passionate about, but also things I know will be worth something in the future. These two categories overlap for some things, and sometimes I just have to put in hard work that doesn’t necessarily feel inspiring at the moment.
  • I had no idea as a freshman what I wanted to be… I thought I wanted to be an astrophysicist, but this research has made it clear that I want to do applied material science. I learned this while I was doing research at the University of Alabama: MINT center Material in Information Technology looking at nonvolatile memory. They had a ton of graduate students that gave me advice.

6. What have you learned about yourself by participating in Undergraduate Research?

Research changed my mind about myself… before I did research, I didn’t think I had any place in the Physics environment and was completely underqualified… but it ended up being the most valuable experience I’ve had. It helps me as a student to have the balance to have my regular coursework and learn physics in a different environment.

7. How will you use what you learned during your research experience?

When I go to graduate school, because of the experiences I’ve had hands-on, I might be the only person who has used some of the technology before. It is a huge benefit to me to have already worked with what I have.

8. Other thoughts you would like to share?

I think that students interested in research shouldn’t be intimidated by it and should try to get over that fear. They should talk to the professors in their department and listen to what they are interested in. They love talking about it! Your real job will be hands-on and won’t look exactly like your classes.

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