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Physics Students Selected for Prestigious Research Fellowship

Ella Johnson ’18 and Maxwell Werner ’18 were selected for an 11-week summer research fellowship.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program is a paid program designed to inspire undergraduate students on their way toward STEM-related careers. Ella Johnson ’18 and Maxwell Werner ’18 will join students from across the country this summer to gain hands-on experience at one of the world's leading research organizations.

Johnson is a math, physics, and music triple-major who will spend her time at NIST aiding in the development of next-generation optical atomic clocks. She’ll explore techniques of atomic physics, including diverse laser systems and laser cooling, magneto-optical trapping, optical lattices, laser stabilization, and ultra-high resolution spectroscopy.

“I am excited to experience some of the highest level physics research that is happening in the world. It’s such a privilege to be able to work one-on-one with some of the leading experts in their fields,” Johnson says. “The research I've done with Bethel professors has given me a glimpse into the world of research, and has allowed me to travel and share with other undergrads who have done similar things. This networking has been influential in motivating me to become more involved and qualifying me for many more opportunities.” Though she’s not certain what she wants to do next, Johnson hopes that the summer program will give her exposure to cutting-edge techniques and opportunities to network with professional physicists, and help her solidify plans for after graduation.

“We want students to do good work on campus, but it’s also great for their resumes to do interesting things in other labs,” Associate Professor Chad Hoyt, who has done research at NIST and nominated the students for the fellowship, says. “NIST is one of the best—an experience like this can really propel students forward in their careers.”

Werner is a physics and math double-major whose summer research group will focus on developing the cutting-edge NIST atomic clock technologies that are already poised to revolutionize timekeeping. 

“The NIST SURF program is an amazing opportunity to expand my skills and experience high-level research. Spending a summer in the mountains doesn’t sound too bad either!” says Werner, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics and a career in academia after graduation. “The Bethel physics department has been essential in helping me achieve this fellowship. All of the physics professors—and particularly Dr. Richard Peterson—have inspired my passion for physics.”

“We are extremely proud of Ella and Max,” Dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences Carole Young says. “They earned these awards through a deep commitment of time and energy to the ongoing research program in the Department of Physics and Engineering. Faculty members in all of Bethel’s science departments boast a long track record of notable research accomplishments. This type of success is produced by close and extended collaboration between faculty and students.”

Johnson and Werner follow in the footsteps of five Bethel alumni who have taken part in the NIST SURF program in previous years: Nathan Lemke ’06, Tommy Hofer ’09, Sarah Kaiser ’11, Adam Banfield ’11, and Jessica Doehrmann ’12. All five went on to pursue advanced degrees.

Bethel has the 14th largest undergraduate physics department in America in terms of the number of physics majors graduated. Virtually all complete major research projects—whether through paid in-house summer internships, off-campus fellowships like SURF, or others—before graduating, and Bethel has been well-known for its focus on advanced labs and development of faculty.

“We have hosted six training workshops at Bethel for faculty from other universities—paid for by the National Science Foundation—over the last seven years,” Chair of the Department of Physics and Engineering Brian Beecken says. “Professors come from all over the country, and from as close as the U of M, to learn how we incorporate real research projects into our course work.”

One of the reasons Bethel has been so successful in incorporating high quality student research experiences is because of its smaller class sizes—averaging 11 students per faculty member in undergraduate programs—and the way professors get to know and tailor projects to students’ particular interests. “This can only be done—the way we do it—in a small atmosphere,” Hoyt says.

Find out more about Bethel’s physics and engineering department.

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