BROOKINGS – Jace Waybright, a sophomore physics and mathematics major at South Dakota State University, is one of six undergraduates nationwide chosen to participate in an international nanotechnology Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program through Cornell University.
Waybright will spend this summer in Tsukuba, Japan, doing research at the National Institute of Materials Science. The National Science Foundation-funded program gives young scientists global research experience.
“Spending an entire summer in Japan conducting research will give me insight on how research at a world-class facility is done,” said Waybright, noting typically applicants are junior and seniors.
Though Waybright inquired about the international REU program last fall, only REU students who had attended the national summer conference could apply. He worked with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln REU group that did not attend the conference due to a scheduling conflict.
In December, just three days before the application was due, he got an email from the UNL site coordinator saying he could apply.
“Getting that email at the last minute gave me a good feeling – maybe this was meant to be,” Waybright said.
He credited assistant physics professor Parashu Kharel with starting him on the path that led to this opportunity.
“Dr. Kharel took a chance on me even before I came to South Dakota State – that was huge for me,” said Waybright, who had already earned 30 college credits when he graduated from Lincoln East High School in Lincoln, Nebraska, in May 2016.
The summer before he began his undergraduate work at South Dakota State, Waybright worked with Kharel as a REU faculty-student pair at the Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience. That experience then led to Waybright receiving a subsequent summer REU paired with University of Nebraska-Lincoln assistant professor Xiaoshan Xu.
“Having two years of experience with two different technologies on my application made a huge difference,” Waybright said. He and Kharel were developing magnetic intermetallic materials that help computer hard drives read information more accurately and efficiently. Last summer, Waybright studied the magnetic properties of thin-film materials using reflected light.
“That was the most fascinating thing I’ve ever done – determining the magnetic behavior of a material by shining a light on it,” he said.
Waybright’s REU group will leave for Japan in late May and return in early August to attend the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure REU convention in North Carolina. The NSF-REU program covers travel expenses and housing in Japan in addition to providing a $6,800 stipend.
“It will be exciting to develop connections with my Cornell University supervisor and other international researchers,” said Waybright, who is also enrolled in the Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College. “It makes me feel like I’m on the right track.”