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Idaho State University

ISU’s Emily Oliphant receives prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

May 5, 2020

POCATELLO – Idaho State University physics major Emily Oliphant, 20, who has completed her undergraduate this spring in three years, has received a three-year National Science Foundation Science Graduate Research Fellowship Program to pursue a doctoral degree at the University of Michigan.

ISU’s Emily Oliphant receives prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
Emily Oliphant

She is the only ISU graduate to receive this award this year. She has also received a Rackham Merit Fellowship from the University of Michigan to cover two years of her graduate school expenses. She will pursue a doctorate in materials science and engineering.

“I am absolutely excited about it,” said Oliphant, from Idaho Falls, whose mother, Leslie Kerby, is an ISU computer science assistant professor. “It will give me the opportunity to do the research I want regardless of what the professor has a research grant for, which is really convenient so I can be a little bit more risky or explorative.”

Although her research activities at the University of Michigan are only in the developing stages, Oliphant said an area she may be investigating is new wide-band-gap nitride semiconductors, which are used to fabricate computer chips and regulate the flow of electrons in circuits.

“I would be investigating them as the experimental aspect of my research and I would also be investigating the properties of materials that lead to different electronic band-gap structures,” she said. “I would investigate and hopefully develop some new physics and intuitive thinking in the area.”

Oliphant said she chose physics as a major because she has always been curious about complicated problems and she knew physics was a good base for going to graduate school, which has always been her ultimate goal. Coincidentally, both her mother and father earned physics undergraduate degrees.

ISU prepared her well for getting into graduate school.

“I really found that once you just start something that will lead you to some other opportunity and if you grasp all opportunities along the way then that will bring you further than you can imagine,” she said. “ISU has been very helpful and really supportive for me doing that and has some really good facilities for helping students with research and giving them opportunities.”

When she first started at ISU she was given research opportunities with ISU physics Professor Dan Dale at ISU’s Idaho Accelerator Center. That experience helped her land an internship with Argonne National Laboratory and she had an internship at the University of Michigan last summer.

Finishing her degree during the coronavirus pandemic has been a challenge. When the ISU lab and classroom closures were initially announced, Oliphant spent time with a friend in Minnesota, but has since returned to Idaho and is finishing the semester living with her sister in Boise.

“I think it has been much more difficult doing online classes, at least for me,” she said.  “Especially for physics, it is hard to find the motivation and attention to sit through online lectures. I really like getting engaged with lectures when there is a professor there and I can ask questions, but it is a little bit more difficult when that is all online.

“Luckily,” she added, “this was a somewhat easier semester for me. I am only taking 4 classes, but I do have some difficult ones and I am thankful it wasn’t one of those semesters that I did a lot more credits.”