Wave-ing from Scotland

It’s not easy to study abroad when you’re a physics major, but Alyssa Conway ’15 is one of 15 students selected from colleges around the country for an international summer internship program with the National Science Foundation.

After three years of living in Cleveland Young International Center (the College’s internationally-diverse living community), Conway realized how important going abroad would be for her undergraduate career. 

“It’s quite difficult to study abroad with a science major, so when I spoke with my advisor, Associate Professor of Physics Nathan Mueggenburg, he suggested I find an internship abroad,” said the Winnetka native.

She did some research and applied to a very competitive international Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), hosted by the University of Florida. Funded by the National Science Foundation, Conway was accepted to a program at the University of Glasgow in Scotland that focuses on gravitational wave physics.

“REUs are common ways for undergrads in STEM fields to get hands-on experience,” Conway said. “And they pay for housing, transport and provide a stipend.”

“Summer research opportunities provide great experience with fields of physics research that we don’t study here, and give the students a peak into life at a large research university,” said Professor Mueggenburg. “This can really help a student decide if they want to go to graduate school.”

She left in the beginning of June for Amsterdam, where she met other students in the program before they split for their host institutions in places such as Paris, Pisa, and Tokyo. While in the Netherlands, the students toured the National Institute for Subatomic Physics, where Conway lifted 150 kgs (a little more than 330 lbs) with one finger using an anti-spring suspension system.

“I loved wandering through the streets of Amsterdam with my fellow REU students,” she said. “We tried not to take the same path more than once.”

While she explores the streets abroad, Conway is working on designing and building a new pulling machine for very short, thin silica fibers for use in precision measurement experiments. She’ll also be writing the control programs for the new motors in the pulling machine.

Her projects help contribute to the field of gravitational research because researchers must improve pulling techniques for fibers used in suspensions to reduce thermal noise.

The University of Glasgow is the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world and Conway loves the friendly people and architecture.

“It’s like being at Hogwarts!” she said. “I open at least 10 doors and take four different stairways to get from the laser lab to my supervisor’s office.”

To learn more about Conway’s gravitational wave research, watch this 20 minute video:


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