"The lab shares the NNSA's goal of increasing the number of minority students who pursue careers in science."
Grant increases minority scientists' access to Magnet Lab's facilities
by Susan Ray
The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and two historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have been awarded a $1.5-million, one-year collaborative grant from the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) to increase the involvement of minority scientists and their students in cutting-edge research.
The award will establish and enhance strong experimental and theoretical research opportunities at Prairie View A&M University in Prairie View, Texas, and North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, N.C., while extending and expanding the currently funded research of the magnet lab's Extreme Conditions Group. The research utilizes pressure, temperature and high magnetic fields to probe actinides—radioactive elements about which much remains unknown—and related materials.
This research, led by magnet lab principal investigator Stan Tozer, working with Eric Palm and Tim Murphy, supports the NNSA's national security and nonproliferation missions by using science—as opposed to weapons testing—to predict how materials will perform under extreme conditions. A more fundamental understanding of actinides is needed to better understand the implications of using and storing nuclear fuels, such as enriched uranium.
"The lab shares the NNSA's goal of increasing the number of minority students who pursue careers in science," Tozer said. "We're confident that this partnership will help groom the next generation of scientists by giving them hands-on research experience that they would not be able to get otherwise."
The collaboration is a homecoming of sorts for grant principal investigator Kevin Storr of Prairie View A&M, an experimentalist who received his Ph.D. in physics from Florida State University in 2001. During his time at FSU, Storr spent many hours working at the magnet lab, and recently spent the summer there as a visiting scientist. The grant will allow Storr to outfit his Prairie View A&M lab with state-of-the-art equipment, most notably a 17-tesla superconducting magnet. This will greatly benefit Prairie View A&M's physics and chemistry program long after the grant ends.
"The magnet lab has exposed me to science beyond my initial experiences, allowed me to collaborate with the international scientific community, and served to direct me along a viable, fulfilling and profitable career path," Storr said. "I am eager to see the effects the lab will have on my own students as they prepare to forge their own experiences in their scientific pursuits."
Storr said he knows from experience that when young people are exposed to positive experiences and spend time in a lab, they begin to see science as a worthwhile pursuit. "Our hope is that by partnering with the magnet lab, minority researchers and HBCUs can gain a foothold in extreme conditions research and increase the availability of minority scientists in leading research," he said.
A large portion of the magnet lab's share of the grant money will go toward purchasing an automated, 16-tesla Physical Property Measurement System (PPMS) from technology company Quantum Design. This equipment is important to early-career researchers because it allows them to perform initial measurements that justify experiments in higher magnetic fields. Above and beyond the grant, the magnet lab also is renovating lab space that will house the PPMS system and that will be dedicated to the HBCU researchers and their graduate students. The group hopes to expand the effort over the course of the next few years to bring in additional HBCU participants and their students.
Many minority students will benefit from the grant. It will support two graduate and five undergraduate students at Prairie View A&M and a postdoctoral position at North Carolina A&T, all of whom will be provided travel support to do collaborative research at National High Magnetic Field Laboratory facilities in Tallahassee and Los Alamos, N.M. In addition, the grant will support four HBCU students in the "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" (REU) program administered at the magnet lab by the Center for Integrating Research and Learning. The lab's REU program is a summer internship that matches undergraduate students with scientists and researchers in an eight-week mentorship.
The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory develops and operates state-of-the-art, high-magnetic-field facilities that faculty and visiting scientists and engineers use for research in physics, biology, bioengineering, chemistry, geochemistry, biochemistry and materials science. The laboratory is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the state of Florida and is the only facility of its kind in the United States. To learn more, please visit www.magnet.fsu.edu.
The National Nuclear Security Agency is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy that is responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear energy. To learn more, please visit www.nnsa.doe.gov.