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NMSU physics major wins at national STEM conference

A New Mexico State University undergraduate student won first place for her presentation at the 2013 Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM. Amber Medina, a physics major in the College of Arts and Sciences, won for her poster presentation in the nanoscience and physics category at the conference in Washington, D.C., last month. The win comes with a $300 prize.


Headshot of Amber Medina
NMSU physics student Amber Medina recently won first place for her poster presentation at the 2013 Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM. (NMSU photo)

"The best thing about the award is knowing that I am able to communicate the knowledge I have gained about my research in a scientific, yet understandable and eloquent way," Medina said.

Medina won for her poster titled, "Determination of the dielectric function of germanium as a function of temperature." The poster illustrates how temperature affects the absorption and refractive index of the element germanium.

"This basically means that the speed of light when passing through germanium has a dependence upon temperature," Medina said. "This is important to know since germanium could be used in satellites and solar cells, which are subjected to large temperature fluctuations."

Medina is an undergraduate researcher supported by the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation, a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation that aims to
increase the enrollment and graduation rate of historically underrepresented groups in STEM.

Since 2011, she has worked with Stefan Zollner, physics department head, taking spectroscopic ellipsometric measurements of germanium as a function of temperature.

"I invited Amber Medina to join my research group after I had her as a student in my introductory physics class," Zollner said. "She worked very diligently for more than two years on her project and she made much more progress than I expected initially. I was very pleased to see that the progress in her coursework has led to an ever-increasing understanding of her research project."

"The data from Amber's research provided the basis for a research proposal submitted to the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, which was funded over a three-year period in the amount of $450,000, with subcontracts to Arizona State University and the University of Delaware," Zollner said.

The third-year student is also working on a supplemental major in mathematics while minoring in astronomy. Her future plans include postgraduate work.

"Admission to the most selective graduate programs in astrophysics like Cornell or Harvard is very competitive," Zollner said. "This award will make it more likely for Amber to be admitted to a graduate program of her choice."

Medina was accepted for undergraduate summer research programs in astrophysics at both Cornell and Harvard, which she will attend this summer.

"I would like to teach at a university, where I can research the evolution of galaxies with a particular emphasis on the relationship between galaxy and stellar formation," Medina said.

The Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM is hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Education and Human Resources Programs, and the National Science Foundation, Division of Human Resource Development within the Directorate for Education and Human Resources.

The conference is aimed at college and university undergraduate and graduate students who participate in programs funded by the NSF HRD Unit, including underrepresented minorities and persons with disabilities.

For more information about the conference, visit their website at http://www.emerging-researchers.org/.