John Epling, Materials Science Engineering

Why did you apply for the 2013 NIST SURF program?

I applied for the NIST SURF program to gain a better understanding of how research is conducted outside of academia. This research program allowed me to see how government is used to help drive industrial standards for manufacturing/development.


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

My summer research project involved the creation of a standard reference material for mortar that will be used to help calibrate concrete rheometers in industrial/academic settings. This effort involved the collaboration with other government agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration, and other research universities


What did you enjoy most about the experience?

I enjoyed meeting and working with other college students from all across the United States; from MIT to UC Berkeley. Not only did I have the chance to work with them in collaboration with my project, but I got the opportunity to travel and tour such places as Washington, DC, New York City, and Boston. 


What was the lab environment like?

The laboratory is a collaborative environment filled with professionals from all engineering and science disciplines. I had the opportunity to work with well acclaimed physicists, chemists, chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, and materials engineers.


What was the peer network and interactions with other participants?

Typically, your advisor will have multiple students doing their own individual research projects. This allows one to learn more about other research projects in related and differing fields of interest. NIST encourages networking with other students and professionals across all labs.


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

NIST SURF has given me the opportunity to gain a good research foundation for graduate school. I hope to use my connections and current/future research work at NIST to publish academic papers before graduate school.


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

NIST gave me the opportunity to tour their Nanofab center. This is a state of the art research sector at NIST that focuses on the nanofabrication and nanomeasurement of materials. NIST also provides the opportunity to tour Congress both the House of Representatives and the Senate. With this trip they provide the chance to meet and talk with your local state representatives about how your research at NIST is vital for academic development of undergraduates.


Describe the social and living environment.

 The NIST SURF program provides a completely paid for apartment for all students that are accepted into the program. Typically, NIST will randomly pair four students to each apartment with all normal commodities and a free continental breakfast every morning. 


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


I would encourage anyone that is remotely interested in pursuing research through graduate studies to consider this program. NIST SURF is one of the most prestigious research programs available to undergraduate students that are citizens of the United States.


Other Information

Funny Story:

If accepted into the NIST SURF program make sure that everything is in order before arriving to Gaithersburg, MD. Gaithersburg is about a ten hour drive from Purdue University. One of the things that I neglected to pay attention to before leaving for the summer was the expiration date on my car registration. NIST is legally under the jurisdiction of the federal government, which means that NIST has its own federal police force on campus that ID every person and vehicle at all four entrances. This means that one’s vehicle can potentially be towed and impounded if the documentation is not in correct order. I was lucky…I only got a ticket, and my car was grounded for the last part of the program.