For nearly all of us in engineering and science, math is something we had to work hard at to improve. It didn’t come easily. Ask my mom about the C+ I got in math class in 6th grade.
Many students and parents don’t realize that becoming good at math usually takes work – and a lot of it. They think that you have math chops, or you don’t. And that’s the end of it.
As FSU’s Lara Perez-Felkner and her research team have found, girls are more often discouraged than boys by the perception that math ability is just something you’re born with, and that you can’t get better by working hard. And this tendency of girls to become discouraged more than boys may contribute a great deal to the severe underrepresentation of women in fields like physics, engineering, computer science and math, where women earn 20% or less of the bachelors’ degrees awarded.
The remedy? Convince girls that they can get better at math by working hard at it.
Read more about the study at Science 2.0.
Here’s what a day as an undergraduate researcher at FSU’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory might look like for FSU Physics major and Durant High School (in Hillsborough County) grad Jacob Bernier:
First, make some crystals of some material like the high temperature superconductor Yttrium Barium Copper Oxide (it’s usually abbreviated YBCO) in powder form.
Then, zap them with X-rays. Measure the X-rays scattered from the powdered crystals with an X-ray diffractometer. Then, figure out what the material looks like at the microscopic level by reading the X-ray diffraction pattern.
Well, no. It’s actually pretty darn complex and sophisticated. And it takes a talented, industrious student, a great advisor (in this case the Magnet Lab’s Dr. Ryan Baumbach), and access to a wide array of state-of-the-art instruments. The Magnet Lab provides those instruments at a level second to none.
Results are important in physics. But no physics student lasts long without enjoying the process of getting to results – making something complex work, or altering the structure of matter with a torch. Bending nature and technology to one’s will.
Consider Jamie Burke, who graduated a year ago from Plant City High School in Hillsborough County. Jamie just completed her first year as a physics major at FSU, and she is an undergraduate researcher at the university’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Jamie is producing crystals of a compound that includes the elements cerium, rhenium and gallium and in which the electrons do not behave as they do in a normal metal. The researchers (of which Jamie is one) say that this compound exhibits “non-Fermi liquid behavior”.
And the way you try to understand such behavior? By performing a “quantum oscillations” experiment, which requires a strong magnetic field – which (of course) is readily available at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.