Fermilab engineers give high marks to Visiting Faculty Program

Fermilab engineers Meredith Lee (left) and George Lolov were among 11 teams of lab employees who spent the summer as part of the Visiting Faculty Program. Photos: Marty Murphy

Fermilab engineers Meredith Lee and George Lolov admit that they didn’t know a lot about the Visiting Faculty Program before they decided to participate this past summer. But they both say they would be happy to do it again.

The two were among 11 teams of Fermilab employees who spent 10 weeks assisting faculty from historically underrepresented postsecondary institutions in the U.S. research community with a research project as part of the VFP. The DOE-sponsored program offers participating faculty a chance to gain hands-on research experience to increase their competitiveness and give them an edge when applying for federal research funding.

Lee and Lolov worked alongside Fermilab’s Mayling Wong-Squires and Saleh Almestiri, a manufacturing engineering professor at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, who was joined by one of his students. The project they worked on focused on additive manufacturing with stainless steel for use in a high-vacuum environment – research that may one day expand the manufacturing processes available to meet industrial demand.

For Lolov, working with Almestiri allowed him to learn about something unique. “I was involved with plastic 3D printing before, so I knew the basics and some of the possibilities the technology presents,” he said. “But working with Saleh took me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to broaden my knowledge and expertise. It was a great experience.”

Lee agreed. “Working on this project gave me the opportunity to do work that is outside my typical job responsibilities,” she said. Lolov added: “It also gave us a chance to try out and explore new approaches that may hold value for the lab.”

For Almestiri, collaborating with Fermilab offered him and his student a way to take part in research that normally would be out of their reach. “My school does not have the facilities that Fermilab does, so I don’t get to conduct research at this level. The VFP was a great opportunity to work with and learn from the best and evaluate the potential of this evolving area of study,” he said.

Fermilab engineer and VFP lead Kathrine Laureto said that this synergetic relationship is at the heart of the program. “By participating in VFP, visiting faculty develop skills that directly benefit their institutions,” she said. “Equally important, they also build the scientific infrastructure needed to keep the STEM workforce pipeline flowing – something the DOE has made a priority. It is truly a ‘win-win’ for everyone involved.”

Laureto also believes the VFP could benefit from further expansion at Fermilab. “It’s great to see the cutting-edge work Fermilab employees have collaborated on as part of this program over the years,” she said.

“Before 2021, Fermilab was averaging two VFP teams per summer. It took a lot of work to increase that number to 11 teams for the summer 2021 VFP session. We’re excited to keep spreading the word so more scientists and engineers across Fermilab can get involved and see the program’s value for themselves,” she said

Anyone interested in learning more about the Visiting Faculty Program can visit Fermilab’s VFP information page, where they’ll find application information, eligibility requirements and other details. The application period for next summer’s program runs through January 12, 2022.