A love of science and math manifested early for Physics major Kelly McCutcheon ’11.
“My parents were always really good about making sure I got to try out all sorts of things when I was a kid, and that included science,” she says. “I did my elementary school science fairs and liked things like Bill Nye the Science Guy and Math Blasters.”
As the 2009 winner of the Clare Boothe Luce Award at Franklin & Marshall, McCutcheon received a tuition scholarship and $2,000 to support her research. She got off to a good start this summer, taking part in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program at Penn State University.
There, McCutcheon worked with Elizabeth Dickey, professor of materials science and engineering, on measuring the properties of silicon nanowires that could potentially be used to make solar cells. “The shape of the nanowires reduces the need for high-quality silicon, as compared to conventional solar cells, which use a silicon wafer,” McCutcheon explains. “Making solar cells out of them could help make the cells less expensive.”
McCutcheon’s job was to measure the reflectivity of the nanowires to see how much light the nanowires were absorbing. “This is important for solar cells, because any reflected light is lost and can’t be used to make energy,” she says.
Working in a graduate-level setting, McCutcheon learned how research teams operate, how research results are shared and how graduate education is structured. The experience helped to convince her to apply to graduate school, where she intends to specialize in physics or a related field. “I didn't have a good feel for what graduate students do before this summer,” she says, “but being at Penn State really showed me what graduate school might be like.”
Fellow Clare Boothe Luce Scholar Elizabeth Bushong ’10 also participated in an NSF research program this summer. Bushong, last year’s winner of the Clare Boothe Luce Award, spent part of her summer conducting research on optical fibers at Lehigh University with Professor of Physics Jean Toulouse. She was tasked with trying to make low-loss optical fibers out of tellurite, a rare oxide mineral. Tellurite is preferable to silica—the substance most commonly used in optical fibers—because it can transmit light at more wavelengths.
Bushong also has worked alongside Ken Krebs, associate professor of physics and astronomy at F&M. The pair studied how atoms in solids react to light, and how that reaction influences the electrical characteristics of the solids. Ultimately, the work is aimed at developing new materials for solar-energy harvesting.
The Clare Boothe Luce scholarship is considered to be the most significant source of private support for women interested in science, engineering and mathematics. It is named for Clare Boothe Luce, a playwright, editor, ambassador and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is a program of the Henry Luce Foundation.