It was through a University of Utah summer research program that Karina Smolyar got something she felt she desperately needed — precious experience working on a research project.


The 18-year-old Northeastern University student was one of nine students — most of them from out of state — who attended this year’s three-month Research Experience for Undergraduates Summer Program (REU) to get hands-on time on Utah Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) research projects. The REU program, which just completed its third year, is part of a $12 million National Science Foundation grant for Utah MRSEC.

“What I got out of the program was how to structure a good research project and how to drive my own research for the future,” said Smolyar, who will be a sophomore at Northeastern this year in chemical engineering. “It was definitely a good experience to get involved in a lab and know what it was like to go through the scientific process.”

Smolyar worked with Michael Bartl, a U associate professor of chemistry, from May through August on studying the properties of a new kind of metamaterial called magnonic crystals, which one day could be used for magnetic circuits for data storage.

The program invites juniors and incoming seniors outside the University of Utah and then pairs them with a mentor and a project, said Chelsey Short, program coordinator for Utah MRSEC. This year’s session invited nine students, including four women and two from underrepresented minority groups.

“We recruit undergraduates who have really good academic records but little to no research experience,” Short said. “This year’s group came from all over the country, some from the University of Delaware and the University of Missouri to the University of Iowa.”

The projects all involved studying certain metals for plasmonics and organic materials for spintronics, both cutting-edge topics in materials science. The students attended a series of professional-development seminars that train students to compose resumes and prepare for a job interview, and it’s also an opportunity to introduce the students to what the University of Utah has to offer in its engineering program.

“By spending time working with faculty and students, we want them to go away with the view that there is exciting work going on at the University of Utah and that they can be successful in their careers if they choose to come here,” said Utah MRSEC Director Ajay Nahata, who also is an associate dean for the U’s College of Engineering.

Smolyar, who will be a sophomore at Northeastern this fall, said her summer experience has piqued her interest in going to graduate school at the University of Utah.

“It seemed like there was a large variety of research that was being done there,” she said, “and a lot of resources for grad students.”

Read more about the Research Experience for Undergraduates Summer Program.