Undergraduates win NSF Fellowships


Undergraduates win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

Physics major Nora Brackbill and Astrophysics major Carina Cheng were among the winners of the 2013 NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP) provides fellowships to individuals selected early in their graduate careers based on their demonstrated potential for significant achievements in science and engineering.

The program provides three years of support for graduate study that is in a field within the NSF's mission and leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree. Each fellow has a total of five years in which to use these three years of support. 

Nora Brackbill (left) works in the Quantum Physics and Technology Lab led by Professor HongWen Jiang. The lab studies double and triple quantum dots with potential applications in quantum information processing. Quantum dots are nanoscale devices that trap a single electron or a few electrons in a potential well using voltage gates in a semiconductor. They can be used as qubits, the basis of quantum computing, by storing information in the spin states of the electrons.

Nora's research focuses on simulating electron transport in the double dot systems incorporating novel methods of spin control. She has done previous research in photonics and bioengineering at UCLA and astrophysics at UCSC and plans to attend Stanford University for graduate school.

Astrophysics major Carina Cheng (right) is currently working with Professor Andrea Ghez and the Galactic Center Group studying the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at high angular resolution using the telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory. These telescopes are equipped with Adaptive Optics (AO), a revolutionary technology that provides real-time corrections for the atmospheric blurring of starlight.

While AO has dramatically improved our ability to see into space, AO observations of crowded fields present unique challenges. There are typically many point spread function (PSF) reference sources in the field of view, but none is isolated enough to allow for an accurate empirical estimate of a PSF. Astronomical observations in crowded fields such as in our own Galactic center require precise measurements of stellar proper motions to an accuracy that is not always attainable with current post-processing methods.

Carina's research focuses on testing the effect of an imperfect PSF estimate on the astrometry of dim sources in the vicinity of bright sources, as well as quantifying the relationship between PSF difference and astrometric error. Carina will be graduating from UCLA in Spring 2013 with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Astrophysics at UC Berkeley.

Both students are part of the Clare Boothe Luce Undergraduate Research Program led by Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Adrienne Lavine.  The Clare Boothe Luce Program provides stipends for students to engage in research during the academic year and summer. In addition, scholars are funded to present their research at local and national research conferences.

Luce Scholars receive special mentoring and preparation for graduate school and research careers via counseling and a specialized seminar course.  The seminar prepares students both academically and professionally. Topics include writing about and presenting science, ethics, lab safety, graduate school, and career options.