Research & Relationships
Faculty Mentor Students In The Lab And The Field
By Joy Hart
Encouragement Among The Test Tubes
(PICTURE) David Son oversees the
research of Christiana Rissing.
Christiana Rissing (’03), a Ph.D. student in SMU’s Chemistry
Department, studies the interaction of dendrimers based on a
tetravinylsilane core with metals like copper, platinum and silver.
Any interesting properties
that develop “could
prove useful for medical
and electronic applications,”
If she has any questions,
Rissing can call
on Associate Professor
of Chemistry David
son, her adviser. She began studying with Son as an undergraduate
and stayed at SMU to pursue her Ph.D. because she enjoys
working with him.
“In the lab, we’re always teasing Dr. Son about his favorite line: ‘It
looks promising,’” Rissing says. “He always looks for and finds the
silver lining. I can work on a stubborn experiment for weeks, and I
start questioning my technique. Even when the results look bad, he will look at all the data and find something that ‘looks promising.’
“It makes me want to go that extra step – read that extra paper
or search through the literature in case I’ve missed something.”
As a Ph.D. student, Rissing works independently, Son says. “I
treat her more like a colleague now. But, in the beginning, with
any student, you have to be a cheerleader. When I was a graduate
student, more than half of my reactions didn’t work. A big part of
my role is to be an encourager.”
The Physicist’s Apprentice
(PICTURE) Amy Hand learns the ropes
physics lab from Tom Coan.
Junior Amy Hand is writing
a computer program to
design a solenoid magnet
that students will use in the
physics lab to study the
properties of “muons,” electron-
like radioactive particles
produced in Earth’s
upper atmosphere. (A solenoid magnet is made by wrapping copper
wire in a pattern around a specially shaped mechanical frame
to produce a uniform magnetic field within the frame’s interior.)
Hand, a President’s Scholar, chose to study at SMU because of
research opportunities made available to undergraduates, she says.
“Working with a professor who has so much more experience
and can guide me through a project is a huge benefit.”
Tom Coan, associate professor of physics and Hand’s adviser,
helps students to develop a broad set of skills, from learning how
to solder to selecting and purchasing mechanical and electrical
components. “There are a lot of practical things and a bewildering
assortment of things that students have to learn to be efficient in
a lab,” he says.
Hand researches, tests and refines the various components of her
project, working closely with Coan to devise solutions as issues arise.
“The best way to learn the nitty-gritty details is elbow to elbow
with a mentor,” Coan says. “It’s like an apprenticeship. You have to
invest a fair amount of your time working with a student before
you see any return, but the work can be beneficial to both of us.”
Planting The Seed Of Research
Sophomore Jason Stegall spent last summer in the SMU School
of Engineering’s Laser Micromachining Laboratory using a laser
process called micromachining to cut tiny channels on material
that can be used to make artificial bones. “I was testing to see how
strong the laser needed to be and how many pulses were required
per task,” he says.
A National Science Foundation grant awarded to David Willis
and Paul Krueger, associate professors of mechanical engineering,
supported Stegall’s research. The three-year grant funds summer research
opportunities for nine undergraduate students through 2009.