University of Rochester

Laser Lab's High School Summer Research Program Launches Scientific Careers for the Class of 2000 and Beyond

August 22, 1995

A summer research program that has been operating six years at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) to bring more young people into scientific and technical fields has already made quite a difference in the lives of several Rochester-area high school students.

After eight weeks of working alongside some of the world's top researchers in fusion and related optics at LLE, several of the students have won attention in national science competitions, and have entered the country's top institutions. One of last year's participants, Jeremy Schnittman, who graduated from Wilson Magnet High School in May and is headed for Harvard this fall, has even presented work that captured the attention of Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

LLE's program assigns individual research projects to students who have completed their junior year in high school. Some projects involve working with computers, others involve working with laboratory equipment, but all are related in one way or other to the research mission of LLE, which is to conduct the physics research that leads toward generating the sustainable fusion reactions. Fusion could provide a source of clean energy for the next century.

The projects are no piece of cake, even for high schoolers with strong math and science skills. Many find they have to learn more math or physics in order to understand their project and interpret results, so hitting the books is part of the job. This year's program will culminate August 25 in a symposium where students will present the results of their summer work. The goal of the program is to expose students, including women and underrepresented minorities, to research in science and technology in a real environment, says program director, David D. Meyerhofer, associate professor of mechanical engineering and assistant to the director for academic affairs at LLE. The students work 40 hours a week and receive $4.25 per hour. "It's important to pay the students a stipend, because we don't want them to have to choose between working somewhere else to make money for college and passing up the opportunity that could launch their career," explains Meyerhofer.

Meyerhofer has surveyed the program's graduates from past years and has found that of those who have responded -- about half of all graduates -- most are still working in science and technical areas. Two of the four students from the Class of '89 are now headed toward Ph.D.'s in science. Here are some of the local students reporters are invited to interview:

Jeremy Schnittman, Wilson Magnet High School, who ran computer simulations of indirect drive laser shots. Laura Leist, Greece Athena High School, who worked on analyzing data from simulations of laser shots. Karine Kelley, Rush Henrietta High School, who programmed computers so that scientists could control equipment more effectively.

Ezra Cooper, Wilson Magnet High School, who studied how the glass shell of the laser target is distorted during the laser shot. Stanley Bileschi, Fairport High School, who wrote computer programs to help physicists understand how frequencies of interference patterns generated by laser shots change over time. Kwame Akowuah, Brighton High School, who used laser beams to test how transistors work.

Michelle Armitage, Pittsford Sutherland High School, who studies liquid crystal/polymer composites. Blair Irwin, Allendale Columbia High School, who used a modeling program to improve thin film uniformity. Ming Wu, Brighton High School, who wrote a computer program to study short pulse frequency conversion. ###