Science in the Summer

Before his summer internship at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (NIST-SURF), Andrew Dillon ’11 didn’t know what scientists really did in their labs. He wasn’t even sure what his future career path would look like. All he knew was that he liked math and chemistry. His time spent at NIST, however, showed him that these interests could be turned into skills for a career in science.

“In my 11 weeks at NIST, I got firsthand experience of what researchers do,” said Dillon. “I did real research that is being used now.”

Dillon went into the internship as a Montgomery Community College student set to transfer to UMBC in fall 2009. Knowing he’d be attending UMBC, he connected with several other UMBC students – in addition to the rest of the 150 student interns.

“In my opinion, the best part about working at NIST was getting to know the other interns,” he said.

Research varies among interns, who work in groups across NIST laboratories. Dillon’s research focused specifically on DNA and the nanomaterials that would change the chemical structure of DNA – resulting in mutations, cancer or pre-mature aging. He also studied how nanomaterials could potentially affect the environment if used commercially.

Although Dillon’s time in the lab didn’t solidify his career as a researcher, it did help him figure out another path. The summer taught him that although research is fascinating to him, it’s not something he’ll necessarily pursue in the sciences.

“Either way, I’m still going to look into the NIST-SURF program again next year,” he said. “I was paid to do things I love, learn what scientists really do and hang with friends for a summer. What more can I want from an internship?”

In the past four years, the number of UMBC students who’ve attended the NIST-SURF program each year has grown from one to ten. UMBC is among the top schools for highest attendance at the program, which generally accepts around 100 students. Read about last year’s interns here.