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Brazil trip a passport to student career success

September 29, 2014
Jamison Thorne, Ashlyn Shellito, Anusha Ravva and Nicholas Thomson with Anna Quider (second from right) at the IPF conference at UNICAMP

(L to R) Jamison Thorne, Ashlyn Shellito, Anusha Ravva, Anna Quider and Nicholas Thomson at the IPF conference at UNICAMP

They say that the world meets in Brazil, and four Northern Illinois University students are among those doing just that. Ashlyn Shellito, Jamison Thorne, Nicholas Thomson and Anusha Ravva are among those attending the Industrial Physics Forum’s (IPF) conference on Industrial Physics in Emerging Economies, September 28 – October 3 at University of Campinas (UNICAMP), in Sao Paulo.

“We consider student participation in international conferences to be an important aspect of the global NIU experience,” said NIU Vice President of International Affairs Ray Alden. “In addition to the professional opportunity to participate in discussions of internationally significant research, the students are able to interact with peers from around the world and learn about the culture of the host country.”

Nobel prize-winning physicist Eric Cornell speaks with NIU students at the IPF conference Sunday

Nobel prize-winning physicist Eric Cornell speaks with NIU students at the IPF conference Sunday

The goal of the IPF is to enlarge the regional impact of basic and applied research by promoting links between scientists, industry, and societal needs as a key strategy for sustainable technological advancement, or “capacity building.”

“Our students—both graduate and undergraduate—are the key to our future technological advancement,” said NIU Vice President for Research and Innovation Partnerships Lesley Rigg. “This opportunity links them to the broader industrial physics community allowing them to make connections between what they are learning in the classroom here at NIU and how that integrates with both industrial and societal needs.”

The conference is focused on a set of technical and policy topics closely related to scientifically driven economic development in Brazil and Latin America. Conference sessions range from technical sessions to policy, and a field experience will highlight examples of science and scientists contributing to local economic development.

Scientists and students from all countries that are members of the United Nations, its intellectual agency UNESCO or the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are eligible to attend the forum. NIU’s involvement came about through the director of Federal Relations Anna Quider, who serves on the forum’s planning committee. In addition to bringing four NIU students to the conference—two undergraduates and two graduate students studying physics and engineering, respectively—Quider will moderate two sessions.

Thomson and Ravva are graduate students in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology. The advanced manufacturing and energy themes—as well as communications, optics, and health themes—covered in the conference intersect with their studies. The belief that engineering is a global profession is one reason NIU is No. 41 among national engineering programs in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings.

“It is critically important for NIU engineering and engineering technology students to be globally prepared with a competitive edge in order for them to excel in a global environment,” said Dean Promod Vohra. “Attending international conferences is not only helpful in making our students understand internal issues in engineering but is also helpful in establishing peer relationships with their counterparts in other countries.”

Senior Ashlyn Shellito asks a question following a talk by Professor Cornell

Senior Ashlyn Shellito asks a question following a talk by Professor Cornell

The forum’s popular Frontiers of Physics talks, featuring renowned researchers who are making breakthrough scientific contributions, is of great interest to Shellito and Thorne, who are studying physics at NIU.

“The opportunity to attend the Industrial Physics Forum in Brazil is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Thorne, a senior from St. Charles, who also serves as secretary for NIU’s Society of Physics Students.”I will be exposed to a wide variety of industrial physics and policy that will help prepare me for the future. The conference will expose me to industrial physics and how it relates to physicists along with allowing me to meet some of the leading scientists in their respective fields.”

Shellito, who grew up in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and now lives in Batavia, recently completed an internship at FermiLab and a research fellowship at CalTech. She said the trip is her first opportunity to visit another country, and she’s glad it revolves around physics.

“As a senior at NIU, I didn’t think I had the time for any real opportunities to experience the realm of industrial physics until I became aware of the IPF,” Shellito said. “I’m thrilled to be able to complete the triumvirate (national lab, academia, and industry) prior to entering graduate school. This is really a unique opportunity, and I am very grateful to NIU for allowing this to be possible.”

Immediately following the IPF, the four students will participate in a two-day short course on entrepreneurship for scientists targeted at undergraduate and graduate students.

“We hope that these international experiences serve to provide synergy to their educational and research programs, to enrich their resumes, and to provide global networking opportunities for the future,” Alden added.