Undergraduate Research

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Jennifer Zhao ’05 works as a research assistant in Stephen L. Sass’s nanofabrication laboratory. The team’s research objective is to create periodic surfaces on silicon chips at the nanometer scale. These surfaces can serve a variety of purposes including biomedical research on antibodies, manufacturing nanowires, and magnetic signal storage on the nanoscale. Zhao prepares samples for viewing in the transmission electron microscope (TEM), and she has recently been trained to operate and interpret the results using the TEM.

Zhao first found out about the possibility of undergraduate research from a presentation about Materials Science and Engineering in her introductory engineering course. Zhao contacted Sass, landed the job, and has been working for Sass's team ever since. Sass has always been a strong advocate for getting undergraduates into research laboratories early in their careers at Cornell. He explains, “If students join our groups during their freshman and sophomore years, they learn that all those math, chemistry, and physics courses that they are taking are actually useful for solving problems in research. The students get to share in the scientific enterprise and discover the excitement of discovery. Imagine if they are so fortunate as to find something important that no one else has discovered. That’s a real kick!"

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Yonina Fishoff '02 Comments on Her Cornell Experience
Five years ago, I was a high school junior on a mission: to choose the undergraduate institution that would be the best fit for me, allowing for academic, personal, and professional growth. Was there a place with opportunities that would allow me to flourish at a time when I was bursting at the seams with energy? My inquisitive mind and curious nature prompted me to pursue journalism as a major. However, as I began researching colleges and their undergraduate curriculums, I sat with students and professors at various institutions, interviewed them, and pondered my career options. These sessions provided me with insights that shaped my choice of undergraduate school and my career objectives. I realized that a communication program that emphasized social sciences, research, and humanities would provide me with the broadest, most sensible, and rewarding education as opposed to a hard-core journalism major, which would focus more on the “how” than the “why.”

Cornell was the right place for me. ... On my first day in Ithaca, I began looking for a position that would spark my intellectual interests and allow me to work in communications. For the past four years, I worked as the student writer and editorial assistant for Cornell’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research, where I researched and wrote articles for this publication, Connecting with Cornell. In order to complete my writing assignments, I arranged and conducted interviews with students and faculty on topics ranging from history to biophysics. Writing about undergraduate research whetted my appetite for discovering ongoing research in a wide range of fields and communicating it to others.

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