REU Student Spotlight: Shannon Castellon

By Phoebe Grinnell, SEAS Correspondent

NAME: Shannon Castellon

HOMETOWN: Craig, Alaska

COLLEGE: Northern Virginia Community College

CLASS LEVEL: Sophomore

MAJOR: Science

RESEARCH LAB: David A. Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics

Describe the work you are currently doing in the lab.

I am working with a yield stress fluid in porous media. This little chip has microchannels that are so small I must use a confocal microscope to see them. I am flooding the chip with oil and flushing it with a carbopol polymer lubricant. I’m studying the fundamentals and new laws behind the physics of a yield stress fluid, which is a substance that acts like a solid until there is a stress applied. Examples of yield stress fluids include toothpaste or mayonnaise. The goal of my work is to see how yield stress fluids behave in different circumstances.

What do you find fascinating about the project you are working on this summer?                                                                                                              

My mentor told me that what I am working on has never been done before, and I find that really fascinating. Researchers simulate real life when they study the physics of a yield stress fluid, and we are drilling down to explore the most basic principles. I am working with professors from other universities on my project so I feel like I am a part of something huge.

What has been challenging about the specific projects you have been working on? How have you overcome those challenges?                                              

Most of the challenges I face deal with the equipment I use because I have never used it before. I also face some problems with things that are so tiny, like dirt or air bubbles. I work so hard and these little things ruin the trial and it can be really frustrating. I think the biggest challenge is not giving up. A researcher must accept that science can be 90 percent failure and 10 percent success, but once you get over that, then things get easier. When you do have a success it is so gratifying.

What is the most surprising thing you have learned this summer?                                                                                                   

I always thought science was very strict and had a lot of rules, but it’s not like that. People are so open minded and always willing to help. It is more of a community than I thought it would be. I thought being a researcher would mean you are all alone, but it’s actually similar to a family environment. People look out for one another and I can always ask questions. My labmates and fellow students make me feel at home and very comfortable 

How do you think this experience will benefit you in your future coursework or career aspirations?                                                                       

I think this program will give me the confidence I need because there can be a lot of questioning in research. It gives me a leg up, because if I want to pursue research in the future, I will know what to expect and what people are expecting from me as a student and as a researcher.

What is your future academic/career plan?                                                                  

This program has given me a new perspective. I originally wanted to be a traveling veterinarian because I’m from Alaska where many people don’t have access to a vet. But I now think the research aspect of veterinary medicine would be more fun because I can develop new treatments, and it doesn’t just have to help animals. Often, research results can be applied to a broad spectrum of the world, rather than only what it was intended for.   

What are your hobbies?                                                                                            

I like playing video games, doing puzzles, drawing, and exploring.