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Five students earn undergraduate research opportunities this summer

Five University of North Georgia students pursuing degrees in the College of Science and Mathematics won highly competitive research internships to work at renowned programs and facilities for the upcoming summer. The students — three physics majors, one biology major and one chemistry major — were, from top left clockwise: Emily Storck, Jessica Hamilton, Mark Leggiero, Amanda Ash, and Cory Duckworth.

Competition is tough for science-based research opportunities during the summer semesters.

So members of the biology, chemistry and physics departments at the University of North Georgia (UNG) celebrated this spring 2019 semester that five students won highly competitive research internships for the upcoming summer. The students — three physics majors, one biology major and one chemistry major — were offered opportunities to work at renowned programs and facilities.

For the first time in school history, a UNG student has been accepted to the Amgen Scholars U.S. Program. Cory Duckworth, a senior pursuing a degree in biology, was one of 750 students who applied for few than 40 slots for the prominent national award. He will work as a scholar this summer at the Stanford Summer Research Program in California. Duckworth said he knows the experience will help with his future plans.

"It will expose me to new research skills and help me decide what I want to do and where I want to study in the future," the 26-year-old from Hiawassee, Georgia, said. "And I will stand out in applications for graduate school."

UNG junior Jessica Hamilton stood out among applicants to earn an internship at a prestigious German research institute. She was one of 300 international students selected for the DAAD Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) scholarship from more than 1,900 who applied. Hamilton will intern at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.

"I woke up at 5:30 a.m. and saw the email saying 'Congratulations,'" said Hamilton, who lives in Dahlonega, Georgia, with her 4-year-old daughter. "I thought 'Oh my God. I actually got it.'"

The 31-year-old said she felt her work in the classroom and undergraduate research project with Dr. Gregory Feiden on starspots has finally paid off. He agreed.

"Competition for this internship is fierce, and Jessica is most deserving. This award is the culmination of her sustained, dedicated effort over the past two years," said Feiden, assistant professor of astronomy in the physics department at UNG. "This is a pivotal moment for her career. I'm excited to see where she goes from here."

Hamilton, who is also an S-STEM Scholar, is not the only physics major who earned a competitive summer internship. Amanda Ash, who has partnered with Hamilton on starspot research and presented at a conference in summer 2018, won a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Smithsonian-Harvard Center for Astrophysics. She will work with astrophysicists for 10 weeks in in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"Dr. Feiden is good at pushing undergraduates to pursue bigger and better opportunities," said Ash, a 19-year-old from Woodstock, Georgia. "I'm excited to see how other professors conduct research. I hope to get new ideas, and when I return to UNG in the fall, I can bring those new ideas to the table."

UNG sophomore Mark Leggiero, who is pursuing dual degrees in physics and engineering, is ready for the hands-on experience at Brookhaven National Laboratory. He secured a Department of Energy (DOE) Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) at the research facility in Upton, New York.

"They have an electron accelerator called the NSLS-II, which can be used as a big X-ray microscope," said the 19-year-old from Buford, Georgia. "My job will be to create a robotic system that exchanges samples inside the microscope to increase efficiency in imaging. I’m excited that I get to do something I’m genuinely interested in while preparing myself for a career in engineering."

Only 10 students are selected to participate in the NSF REU at Florida State University. UNG senior and S-STEM Scholar Emily Storck was one of them. The 20-year-old from Buford, Georgia, will conduct research on light and matter from May 27 to Aug. 2 in Tallahassee, Florida.

"I'm looking forward to doing research in one of fields that I'm thinking about going into," she said, adding it will prepare her for graduate school. "It will be extremely helpful because an REU is snapshot of what you do at grad school."

All five students plan to attend graduate school, and all agree a summer research opportunity gives them an advantage over the competition.

"I will have an experience at a research-level institute that is well-known in my field," Hamilton said. "That will be my key into graduate schools."

Students interested in pursuing summer research opportunities or undergraduate research projects may contact the CURCA office at

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