Summer research showed me I want to go to graduate school

By Abby Denault ’25

Savanna Richardson works with Dr. Xia Hong at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.
Savanna Richardson works with Dr. Xia Hong at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

Savanna Richardson ’24 spent her summer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln working with one of the hottest inorganic compounds being researched in physics: ReS2.

The chemistry major explored nonvolatile modulation of a 2D ReS2 transistor top-gated by ferroelectric oxide membrane and 2D van der Waals heterostructures. For those not in the field, the project is based around creating a transistor and testing it.

“I worked in the physics and astronomy department, and basically the goal was to create a transistor using ReS2,” Richardson said, adding that this kind of technology could be used in memory cards for cellphones. “ReS2 can be used in place of those other memory cards as a transistor like the one that we made.”

The summer Research Experience for Undergraduates opportunity allowed Richardson to gain experience with new ideas and equipment.

“In order to get the PTZ oxide membrane, we had to use this sputtering vacuum machine. It was this cool machine that I had never heard of before,” Richardson said. “It is this giant machine where you have to climb on a ladder, and you look in the middle. We used the machine to grow the membrane.”

Though Richardson is not majoring in physics, the experience allowed her to explore the field and learn about something she enjoyed from her chemistry classes.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I love quantum. Everyone hates quantum, I’m going to apply for this.’ It sounded like it was going to be a lot of fun and a challenge,” Richardson said — which was exactly what she was looking for.

“At the beginning of my second year, I was writing essays and doing a lot of research on the National Science Foundation website and talking to my adviser,” she said. “She was helpful and did a research experience at University of Nebraska-Lincoln when she was an undergrad. I went to two professors, and I got letters of recommendation from them, and I applied to 10 different places to see who would accept me.”

Without her adviser, Richardson said she would not have known about such an opportunity.

“If I had went to a big university, I probably would have done research, but it wouldn’t have been the same. In this, there was a finished project and I got to present it,” Richardson said. “It was a really valuable experience — hard, but worth it.”

Richardson already has applied to work this summer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

“There are Wartburg alumni there, and they love it so much. I’m really excited about that. It would be another research-intensive experience, except it would be people who aren’t going there for graduate school, they are getting paid for this research by companies,” Richardson said.

For students interested in graduate school or even just exploring research, Richardson recommends trying out a summer experience.

“That is what summers are for, to go out and explore and use cool machines. That really added to my research experience and my background as a researcher. It showed me that I want to go to graduate school because I was not sure before. Going through that process in the REU, it is like a summer camp where they are trying to get you to apply, and they are also paying you a lot of money because it is federally funded. They’re also teaching you about graduate school and your options and how to apply. I learned a lot from those seminars and from going through the research process.”

Students interested in pursuing summer undergraduate research are advised to contact their academic advisers or visit to learn more about undergraduate research and the opportunities available.