Ankur Sarkar, Chemical Engineering

Why did you apply for the 2013 NIST SURF program?

I applied to the NIST SURF program because it is a prestigious research program.  I knew I would be able to grow and would be challenged with very unique and interesting problems by participating in this program.  Additionally, I knew I would work with cutting edge technology and some of the leading experts in fields that were interesting to me.


What was your research project, what did you accomplish during the summer? 

My research project was titled “Effects of Stabilizing-Shell Characteristics on the Structure and Properties of Phase Inversion Membranes Incorporated with Fe/Ni Nanoparticles”.  I synthesized nanoparticles and nanoparticle-embedded membranes and investigated the effects of nanoparticle addition on membrane formation.  I found that nanoparticle additives decreased the viscosity of membrane casting solutions, leading to enhanced de-mixing and more porous asymmetric membrane cross sections.


What did you enjoy most about the experience?

I think the most enjoyable part of this experience was getting the opportunity to learn how to use cutting edge technology to conduct science.  I became familiarized with techniques such as scanning electron microscopy, energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, attenuated total reflectance fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and thermogravimetric analysis among other things.  This experience will be invaluable in being a competitive candidate for graduate school and other research related positions.  


What was the lab environment like?

The lab environment was generally laid back, but with a strong emphasis on safety.  As long as you are being safe, the people around you will be warm, courteous, and willing to enjoy lab time with you.  Safety is a priority though.


What was the peer network and interactions with other participants?

Many of the participants lived in the same apartment complex, and those that didn’t, came over often.  We would often get lunch together, many of us played basketball four or five times a week, and we went on countless hiking/climbing trips throughout our time in Boulder.


How has the NIST SURF experience helped you accomplish your academic and professional goals?

This experience has been instrumental in shaping my goals and helping me find my passions.  This is one of the best opportunities to get a feel for what working in a research setting is like.


What kinds of tours and other professional activities did you participate in during the program?

There were weekly talks from successful scientists at NIST on topics ranging from frequency combs, to nanoscale fabrication, and even quantum computing.  There were also tours of interesting facilities, like the atomic clock and NOAA.  Some students even got to travel to Colorado School of Mines to see other unique facilities. 


Describe the social and living environment.

The environment in Boulder is great.  All the participants would meet up 4-5 times a week.  Boulder is the kind of place where you never run out of things to do.  We did casual day hikes countless times, traveled to Rocky Mountain National park three or four times, took advantage of local climbing opportunities (outdoors and in gyms, and even hiked a 14er).  Aside from that, Boulder also offers the typical college town nightlife, which was enjoyable as well.


Who would you encourage to apply for the 2014 NIST program?

I think that anyone passionate about research and looking to learn more about working in that environment should apply.  It’s a very competitive program, so having prior research is pretty helpful in getting accepted.