I am a senior physics major at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and this past summer (2014), I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Binhua Lin at both the University of Chicago and at ChemMatCARS at Sector 15 of the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Lab. At the University of Chicago, another summer student, Sarah Maddox, and I worked with Dr. Lin and two University of Chicago undergraduates in Stuart Rice’s lab. There, we ran experiments to understand and characterize self-assembled Langmuir monolayers of nanoparticles, mainly gold, and lipids, mainly DPPC and POPG. In addition to exploring the viscoelastic properties of these different films, we also used optical microscopy and particle image velocimetry software to better understand how the films wrinkled and folded as they were compressed uniaxially.

At Sector 15, we worked with the ChemMatCARS scientists, observing and participating in experiments, and attending educational lectures about x-ray sources, including the APS synchrotron, small and wide angle x-ray scattering, crystallography, and their applications. We participated in an experiment with visiting grad students finding the structures and composition of different materials, including sunscreen, toothpaste, and chocolate samples. Another experiment we performed was growing and finding the structure of oxalic acid crystals. We also observed experiments related to the research we were doing at the University of Chicago. A group of graduate students was doing an experiment at ChemMatCARS to study how pollutants affect lung surfactant by using Langmuir monolayers of lipids found in the lung surfactant and “polluting” them with carbon nanotubes to observe how they affected the structure of the monolayers.    

Both of these experiences were incredibly valuable. They allowed us to see what laboratory environments are like, both as it would be in graduate school, and at a national lab. We gained experience in lab safety and procedures, keeping detailed lab notebooks, and learned how to effectively communicate our experiments and results through papers and presentations. This experience also introduced me to biophysics, which I now hope to pursue in graduate school next fall. Overall, it was fun, educational, and definitely a worthwhile experience.


This summer I had the privilege to attend the University of Chicago REU program. I worked with another REU student, Lizz Berge, in the lab of Stuart Rice with Dr. Binhua Lin, as well as with ChemMatCARS in Sector 15 of the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory. I am currently a junior Physics and Math major at the College of William and Mary, and this was my first experience working on physics research in a lab setting. In the University of Chicago Lab, Lizz and I worked with two other undergraduate students on the properties of thin films. The goal of our research project was to better understand the viscoelastic properties of Langmuir films under uniaxial oscillatory compressions. We sought a quantitative description of the monolayer films by calculating various viscoelastic moduli, which helped us to understand how the films reacted to stress. We used many different materials over the ten-week program, but our final project used gold nanoparticles and POPG, a lipid that is a component of lung surfactant, that were able to self-assemble into monolayers at the air water interface of a Langmuir trough.

We were also extremely lucky to have the opportunity to work at APS several times throughout the ten weeks. We observed many of the scientists who work in Sector 15, and we also conducted a few experiments and listened to some lectures given by the colleagues of Dr. Lin. Some of the experiments we were able to participate in included the use of x-ray scattering to understand the properties of different materials (sunscreen, toothpaste, and chocolate), and a crystallography experiment in which we grew tiny oxalic acid crystals to look at their structure with the x-ray beam. Some of the experiments were more closely related to what we were doing at the University of Chicago in which the x-ray beams were used to look at the structure of lipid monolayers and how the application of carbon nanotubes (simulating a pollutant) affect the viscoelastic properties. While at APS, I learned, through observation and lectures, about x-ray scattering, crystallography, the structure of different materials, and Argonne itself. It was an incredible experience to be able to visit APS at Argonne and see the laboratory research side of physics.

Since I had never worked in a lab setting before (I had only done data analysis for a particle physics experiment), this summer program was extremely valuable to me. Of course, by working in a lab I learned things such as lab safety and how to run experiments, and through faculty talks at University of Chicago and lectures at APS, I learned about areas of physics I previously did not know much about. The gain I got from this experience, however, was much greater: I got to explore so much of Chicago over the ten weeks, and I learned more about what area of physics interests me. I realized (happily) that I like the lab setting (despite how frustrating experimental work can be), and biophysics and materials science are now two fields of physics that I am considering pursuing. This REU program was a memorable and worthwhile experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who is considering physics research.