Catherine Ryczek ’21 spent her summer in Germany working with Assistant Professor of Physics Kristen Burson and a team of physicists from around the world at the Fritz-Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin. During her internship, Ryczek collected and analyzed low energy electron diffraction (LEED) data, a process which enabled her and her fellow researchers to learn more about the structure of materials. She also worked to design and assemble a new ultra-high vacuum (UHV) system to allow for the closer study of thin films.
Earlier this year, Ryczek received a Barry M. Goldwater scholarship, the premier national undergraduate award in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences, and engineering.
Hometown: Harmony Township, NJ
High school: Moravian Academy (Bethlehem, Pa.)
Ryczek had previously conducted research with Burson at Hamilton. In Germany, she applied that experience, plus the physics foundation she developed in her classes, to dive deep into her work at Fritz-Haber. “My Hamilton classes prepared me for this internship not only by giving me the physics background that I needed to understand the work I was doing, but also by ensuring that I felt comfortable and confident working in a scientific environment,” she said. In addition to designing parts for the UHV, Ryczek completed quantitative intensity voltage (IV) LEED analysis on a clean ruthenium (0001) substrate and helped collect data.
As an undergraduate working alongside postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students, Ryczek acknowledged that she is “very proud of the fact that [she] was able to make valuable contributions to this team of international scientists, all of whom had several more degrees and years of experience than [herself].”
That's not to say the experience wasn't a bit intimidating at first. “Even though everyone was always extremely welcoming, it was uncomfortable at first to throw myself into an institute where everyone had so much more experience than me and a foreign country where I did not even speak the language,” she explained. “Little things, like making suggestions to the team or going to the grocery store, were definitely intimidating during the first few weeks, but by the end, I truly felt like part of the team.”
The rising junior and physics major will no doubt put the experience she gained at Fritz-Haber to good use as she continues her Hamilton career and eventually pursues a Ph.D. in physics. “Research is really important to me,” she said. “It is my intent to both do more research at Hamilton and to continue to contribute to this summer’s project moving forward.”
Ryczek is one of 200 Hamilton students conducting research or completing an internship supported by the College this summer.