Student Completes Fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Allison Farrar
Allison Farrar, right, received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

From the October 2017 Desktop News | Senior physics student Alison Farrar was selected to continue her research in Gaithersburg, Maryland, during the summer of 2017 as a part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), a prestigious opportunity from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Farrar, whose research focuses on magnetic nanothermometry—a technique where magnetic properties can be used to measure temperature remotely—said the experience was invaluable as she works to determine her career in medical research.

“I loved my time at NIST because it allowed me to mature as a researcher by guiding a project from the very beginning in a relatively unexplored topic and learning more about experimental physics research,” she said. “I was able to apply and build on many of the skills I have learned at UA. I was also able to go on tours and learn about other areas of research, such as the neutron scattering facility and experiments. (NIST is home to one of only two neutron sources in the U.S.!) As I look forward to graduate school, it opened my eyes to many new areas of materials research I hadn’t known about before.”

Farrar worked closely with Dr. Cindi Dennis, a staff scientist in the Material Measurement Laboratory at NIST who initially introduced the SURF program to Farrar. With Dennis as her mentor, Farrar explored the way materials can be optimized for magnetic nanothermometry in regards to living cells, among other things. At the end of the summer, she presented her work as the Material Measurement Laboratory plenary speaker at the conclusive SURF colloquium.

Beyond the scholarly experience, Farrar said SURF offered many other benefits as well.

“I loved getting to explore the D.C. area, especially being able to see the Fourth of July fireworks celebration on the National Mall,” she said. “At NIST, there were lots of opportunities to meet scientists from different labs and get to know the other SURFers. I still keep in touch with many of them, and we might even end up seeing each other again at NIST or in graduate school.”

Farrar’s interest in medical research was stirred when she worked shifts in the neonatal intensive care unit at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center when she was in high school.

“After volunteering for three years in the NICU at LA County-USC Medical Center, I saw how much medical technology had changed in just the short time I had been there and how much it had improved outcomes for babies born today compared to when I was born,” she said.

Farrar, who will graduate in May of 2018, is currently applying to medical scientist training programs, which are combined MD and PhD programs to prepare her to be a medical researcher.

“I am interested in a career developing new medical technology, such as using nanomaterials for drug delivery or diagnostics, in addition to a clinical practice,” she said. “I want to be part of not only being there for patients and their families as a clinician, but also working to improve the science of medicine.”