Christopher Valdes, a physics major at St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will journey to Paris, France, this summer as one of only eight students selected from across the nation to participate in a prestigious internship program.
As part of the Optics in the City of Light Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program, the students, who enter their senior year in the fall, will work in a variety of Paris-based laboratories, performing research with a wide range of ultrafast lasers. Optics, a branch of physics that studies the behavior and properties of light, is emerging as one of the most exciting areas of science.
“I want to get my Ph.D. in medical physics, which is applying physics to health care, and I really think this program prepares me for that dream,” said Christopher, who is also a double minor in Spanish and computer science, and a member of St. John’s first cohort of the S-STEM Scholars Program. His extracurricular activities include serving as Vice President of the Student Ambassador Program, and as a member of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and Vincentian Initiative to Advance Leadership (VITAL). “I love research, and I find it compelling to see how physics is used to help diagnose and treat disease. I want to make discoveries that potentially save lives.”
The Bergenfield, NJ, resident is also excited that the program is based in Paris. “Of course, I want to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but I also want to go to all of those marketplaces that are scattered around the city and visit cafés,” said Christopher, noting the trip will mark his first time in Europe. “This internship combines a career-oriented event with an amazing cultural experience.”
Christopher recently learned he will be assigned to a research project entitled, “Optimizing a Set-Up Coupling Electrochemical and Luminescence Microscopies.” This will involve exploring the possibilities of synchronizing optical and electrochemical signals.
Students in the program get hands-on experience in collaborative science now taking place among several universities in the US and France, including the University of Michigan, the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science (CUOS), and l’Institut d’Optique Graduate School, among others.
Teams of faculty, one from Ann Arbor, MI, and the other from Paris, will each direct an REU student on a collaborative project. The participating students receive a stipend of $5,000 as part of the project, and their expenses for travel, meals, and lodging are covered.
Students spend a week at CUOS, located in Ann Arbor, for orientation, safety training, preparation for living in France, and immersion in the Ann Arbor laboratories of the REU faculty.
Christopher discovered his interest in physics as a high school student. “My high school physics teacher really inspired me to learn more about this field, and I continued to take Advanced Placement physics classes and eventually tutored in physics.”
He has enjoyed numerous opportunities as a member of the S-STEM Scholars Program, which supports approximately 70 students majoring in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics to facilitate their entry into the STEM workforce, which covers science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“I rank Christopher in the top five percent of students I have worked with at St. John’s University in terms of academic ability, interest in science, perseverance, and communication skills,” said Alison G. Hyslop, Ph.D., Principal Investigator for the University’s S-STEM Scholars Program and Associate Professor of Chemistry.
Dr. Hyslop recommended the student for acceptance into the Paris internship. “Christopher’s interest in science allows him to imagine new ways to approach problems, and with more training, he will become an excellent researcher.”
Christopher credits St. John’s with helping him on his career path. “The S-STEM Scholars Program introduced me to research and what it is like to work on a research project. This program helped me to realize that research is one of my passions,” he said.
“St. John’s faculty members are top-notch, as well. All of my classes have been small, so my professors know my name,” added Christopher. “They genuinely want to learn more about what my passions are and why I have them. Combined with having a specific advisor for my major, it is amazing to see how St. John’s connects me with so many services that will set me on track for life.”