SURF Program Provides Undergrad Researchers 'Enlightening' Experience
September 3, 2014
Melanie Ziems
Abby Zinecker
Abby Zinecker

As a Tier One research university, the University of Houston places a strong emphasis on research in and out of the classroom. But for undergraduate students, hands-on laboratory opportunities can be scarce, as researcher spots are usually filled with graduate students and post-doctoral associates. The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) is designed to provide younger students with these valuable laboratory positions for several months over their summer vacation. Several Cullen College students participated in the SURF program last summer along with several Cullen College faculty members, who mentored SURF students in their laboratories.

Abby Zinecker, a junior studying mechanical engineering, worked in Haleh Ardebili’s laboratory. Ardebili, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, researches flexible lithium ion batteries. Under Ardebili’s guidance, Zinecker studied the performance aspect of the batteries, or how much energy they can output.

“My experience in the SURF program was exciting and enlightening,” Zinecker said. “It was really cool to actually perform my own experiments with high tech equipment that I learned how to use myself.” She added that she is looking at the possibility of now publishing a paper on her research, a feat few undergrads achieve so early in their academic careers.

Zinecker said performing research alongside Ardebili not only helped advance the laboratory’s goals, but also taught her more about the mechanical engineering field as a whole. “Doing research is mostly about reading others’ research, and by doing that, I learned a lot about material science, material properties, and some basics of finite element analysis. I think this gives me a real advantage in those subjects later on,” she said.

Aside from Ardebili, several other Cullen College faculty members hosted undergraduate students in their labs for the SURF program this summer. They are: Elebeoba May (biomedical engineering), Kirill Larin (biomedical engineering), Sergey Shevkoplyas (biomedical engineering), Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal (electrical and computer engineering), Pat Cirino (chemical and biomolecular engineering), Peter Vekilov (chemical and biomolecular engineering), Gila Stein (chemical and biomolecular engineering), Kalyana Nakshatrala (civil and environmental engineering), Bora Gencturk (civil and environmental engineering), Leonard Trombetta (electrical and computer engineering), Yan Yao (electrical and computer engineering), Ali Kamrani (industrial engineering), Li Sun (mechanical engineering), Cunjiang Yu (mechanical engineering), and Yashashree Kulkarni (mechanical engineering).

For Zinecker, the experience was valuable in helping her make future plans. “I was able to get a glimpse of what graduate school is like by learning from the Ph.D. students I worked with. It has encouraged me to work towards getting a master’s degree after I graduate,” she said.

All of the students who participated in SURF over the summer will present their summer research experiences along with many other undergraduate researchers at the Undergraduate Research Day on October 9. The event is a showcase of the achievement of more than 120 students through poster presentations.

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