Grant awarded to UCF will help recruit promising STEM students

A newly awarded grant will unlock some new opportunities for ten promising science and engineering students at the University of Central Florida. 

Dr. Talat Rahman and Dr. Mihai Vaida were recently awarded an NSF REU Site grant entitled “Research in materials for energy applications”. The $427,000, three-year grant will provide ten undergraduate students opportunities to carry out research with UCF faculty members with financial assistance to cover their expenses. Rahman is the principal investigator on the grant.

Rahman and Vaida hope to target students who may not have previously considered an education beyond their bachelor’s degree. They are also hoping to find nontraditional students for the program — including veterans or those who are slightly older than most college students. Recruitment will focus on students who may not have the opportunity to do research in a university with a cutting-edge environment as available at UCF.

“We always want to search for highly motivated students and good students for our program,” says Vaida. “This is not just physics or chemistry or material science, it’s basically all of those.”

Rahman, Vaida, and eight other professors will take part in the grant program. Each one will take a recruited student into their lab and work as part of either the Renewable Energy and Chemical Transformation, or REACT cluster, or the Department of Physics or the Department of Chemistry at UCF.

Vaida explains, “We have people in the REACT cluster that are synthesizing materials. We have people that are characterizing materials. We have people like Professor Rahman, she’s a theorist. She predicts the properties of those materials, and altogether we work. We have the same scope but very complementary capabilities.”

Students will also receive guidance on what Vaida calls “soft skills”. Short courses will help students learn how to write a scientific paper, assemble a presentation, and how to think in a way that will advance their studies.

Vaida is no stranger to sparking interests in physics. He’s also part of a program that welcomes a high school teacher into his lab every summer. They team up to develop inexpensive experiments that will cost less than $10.

“The idea is to spark the curiosity in students and to reach as many as possible,” Vaida said.

He’s hopeful this new grant will do the same, as it provides the chance to introduce promising students to the opportunities at UCF.

Rahman has been engaged in recruiting and mentoring students from underrepresented groups into Physics for a long time, particularly through the Bridge Program of the American Physical Society. This new NSF REU program at UCF will help her and her colleagues broaden the participation of students from underrepresented groups and first-time college goers in research in the timely and challenging topic of materials for energy applications. She is looking forward to welcoming these REU students to UCF in May 2024. Her hope is that this REU program serves as a catalyst for bringing in new talent in energy research.

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