Junior Physics major gains valuable experience through REU internship

Marietta College junior Christopher Cheng appreciates the honor associated with earning one of the competitive National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates internships.

“This National Science Foundation program offers a great opportunity for science majors to actually be able to learn from top researchers in emerging new fields like nanotechnology. It was exciting,” Cheng said.

Cheng, a physics major at Marietta College, spent 11 weeks this past summer at Columbia University participating in the NSF program.

While at Columbia, Cheng worked with the director of the program and a graduate student examining nanoparticles. Cheng, who was one of 11 interns at Columbia, was given complete access to all the labs in which he worked and received training on many technical microscopes and different research equipment.

“I was pretty much treated as a very green grad student,” said Cheng, the son of Chosen and Mely Cheng of Dublin, Calif.

Cheng was one of three Marietta College students to participate in the REU program during the summer of 2004. Also chosen were junior Kevin Knoll, son of Steve and Jeanne Knoll of Medina, Ohio, who studied at Michigan State; and senior Seth Avery son of David and Elaine Avery of Vienna, W.Va., who studied at North Carolina State.

“REU is a significant award and is highly competitive, especially with colleges as prestigious as Columbia University; there were students from all over the country applying,” said Dr. Stanley Radford, chair of the Physics Department at Marietta College.

To be chosen for the internship Cheng had to complete an application, submit a transcript, and send two letters of recommendation.

“I know my teachers well, so I was able to get solid recommendations. Going to a small liberal arts college, like Marietta College, isn’t necessarily a disadvantage when competing with peers from larger colleges and universities. I took full advantage of the small class sizes and readily available academic resources,” Cheng said. “The benefits of going to a small school combined with drive and determination placed me in a good position to earn one of the 11 internships offered by Columbia University.”

Cheng’s physics prowess has been recognized at Marietta College with two of the department’s highest honors. He is a Rickey Scholar, an award given to physics students showing excellent academic achievement, and a recipient of the Samuel R. Ruby Scholarship, which is awarded to a deserving student in the department.

“Chris is a fine student and has the capabilities and drive to have a significant career in basic or applied science,” Radford said.

Cheng plans to attend graduate school after earning his bachelor’s degree from MC in 2006. “ I enjoyed my time at Columbia University and I felt I made a worthwhile contribution. The experience opened my eyes to some of the possibilities where my physics degree might lead” Cheng said.