Four Northern Michigan University physics students returned to campus this fall with the value-added benefit of summer research conducted at different locations. One was Biidaaban "Daabii" Reinhardt of Gwinn, who went to the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. She was awarded a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) that she learned about through her AISES Lighting the Pathways mentorship. Her research involved renewable energy and how to make it more efficient. Specifically, she focused on the functionalization of silicon quantum dots (nanoparticles) used to make the photovoltaic cells (solar panels) more efficient in industry. Reinhardt worked with a number of graduate and post-doctoral students in a group led by Professor Reuben Collins, although her research was largely independent.
“This was my first research experience ever and I absolutely loved it,” said Reinhardt. “At first, it was difficult getting used to the research setting. I’m used to a classroom setting, where everything is given to you with set questions and answers, but Dr. Collins and the other students made it very welcoming. I adapted to asking questions and voicing my concerns regarding my research. The problem-solving aspect of it was enjoyable because it challenged me to apply the concepts I have learned in my physics classes to real life.”
Reinhardt toured multiple research facilities such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics with students from other research groups. Sje said these visits showed students what was out there, and that they don't have to stay within a university to do research. They also gained personal and professional contacts for future projects.
Sixty students from countries including Brazil, Italy, Kazakhstan, China and the United States participated. Together they took advantage of opportunities to explore mountains, attend downtown festivals, taste new foods and create new experiences. At the end of the 10 weeks, they shared their respective research projects in a poster presentation to university and community members. The title for Reinhardt’s poster was “Functionalization of Silicon Quantum Dots and Deposition into Silicon Nanowire Arrays.”
After she completes her degree at NMU, Reinhardt said she will attend graduate school and complete a doctorate in applied physics. The summer experience solidified her desire to do research: “I learned a lot professionally and had tremendous growth personally. I intend to become a professor at a research institution."