Twenty-four students majoring in Virginia Tech’s nanoscience degree program visited the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, to meet scientists and to explore opportunities for future internships and careers.

Accompanying the students were six faculty members from the nanoscience program, which is housed in the College of Science’s Academy of Integrated Science.

Along with establishing connections between Virginia Tech and Oak Ridge, the excursion also allowed for greater connections between the students and faculty. “We got to spend time with our nanoscience professors and ask them questions and talk with them, which let us get to know each other much more than we could have in the classroom,” said Jake Viar, a senior from Manassas, Virginia, majoring in nanoscience.

At Oak Ridge, students and faculty met with 20 Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences staff members to hear an overview of the center and the laboratory, discuss research projects the center is undertaking, and tour the center’s fabrication and characterization facilities. The center is one of the only federal laboratories to focus on nanoscience, while Oak Ridge is considered one of the premier national laboratories under the U.S. Department of Energy.

Students and faculty were also given a tour of the Spallation Neutron Source, a $1.5 billion facility that has the world’s best capabilities for using neutrons to study the basic properties of materials.

Virginia Tech is one of two U.S. universities to offer an undergraduate nanoscience degree, so faculty and students were eager to establish foundations for research collaboration with the center. Virginia Tech faculty members also had the opportunity to present their research to Oak Ridge scientists.

“The connections between our nanoscience program and the Center for Nanophase Materials Science are natural and obvious,” said Randy Heflin, director of the nanoscience degree program and associate dean for research with the College of Science.

“The Virginia Tech students and faculty came away from this visit highly energized. The students especially benefitted from getting an additional perspective on the importance of nanoscience to our nation. We anticipate many interactions, including undergraduate student internships at Oak Ridge and research collaborations of our faculty and graduate students with the Oak Ridge center, to occur during the next year.”

The college plans to offer the trip again next fall. The trips are primarily for nanoscience majors and faculty who are invited to participate a few months in advance. 

“The trip encouraged me personally to think critically and creatively about what I have learned in the classroom to find new applications or ways it can be used,” Viar said. “From start to finish, I was presented with experiences that captivated my imagination and motivated me to apply my degree to its fullest potential when I graduate.”

Written by Jessie Rogers, of Suffolk, Virginia, a senior in the Department of English, part of the College Liberal Arts and Human Sciences