Program Brings Students from Developing Nations to UH for Physics Ph.D.

Seven Students Celebrated at Research Event and Reception

ICTP/UH Students
The ICTP/UH Students: Ivy Ahiabu of Ghana, Khurram Aslam of Pakistan, Emmaneul Epie of Camaroon, Merzu Kebede of Ethiopia, Program Director Carlos Ordonez, Eyob Kebede Chere of Ethiopia, Keshav Shrestha of Nepal, and Armindo Samuel Cuamba of Mozambique.

Read Article by International Centre for Theoretical Physics
Seven students from developing nations are pursuing their Ph.D. in physics at the University of Houston. They came to UH through the Department of Physics’ relationship with the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP).

The Ph.D. students hail from six nations – Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Nepal and Pakistan. A celebration held in April brought together the students, their mentors, physics faculty and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics leadership to hear student research presentations, share lunch and develop new connections and networks.

“We are honored to have these high-quality ICTP students who chose UH for their Ph.D.,” said Rene Bellwied, professor of physics and associate chair of the physics department.

Bringing Promising Students to UH

“The best words to describe these students are hard-working, persistent, and self-confident scientists in the making,” said Carlos Ordonez, associate professor of physics and promoter and director of the ICTP/UH student program.

The five-year relationship between the physics department and ICTP began with a memorandum of understanding signed in 2009. The MOU set in place the opportunity for students from ICTP’s Postgraduate Diploma Program to apply for UH’s Ph.D. program in physics.

The Postgraduate Diploma Program is a pre-Ph.D. educational program open to talented young science students from developing countries. Students spend one year of rigorous advanced training at ICTP in Trieste, Italy, in preparation for Ph.D. programs in the U.S. or Europe.

Students coming to UH have specialized in ICTP’s High Energy Physics, Condensed Matter Physics or Earth System Physics programs. The first two ICTP students came to UH in fall 2010.

ICTP/UH Reception“We greatly benefit by having such a talented and diverse group of students on our campus and in our city,” Ordonez said.

Ordonez hopes to expand the program to include more students and more interaction with their home countries.

“I’d like to create a program to promote interactions between the students, faculty in their countries of origin, UH and the ICTP,” Ordonez said. “We want to ensure the knowledge these students have acquired during their stays in Europe and the U.S. can benefit their home countries. A good way to do this is to establish long-term international collaborative links between the home countries, ICTP and UH.”

Coming to the U.S. and UH –Three Perspectives

Keshav Shrestha of Nepal heard about the ICTP-UH collaboration while in the Diploma Program.

“I was impressed by the research at UH, especially the superconductivity research led by Prof. Paul Chu and the biophysics/medical physics research. So, I decided to come to UH,” said Shrestha, who began his Ph.D. at UH in fall 2010.

Shrestha, whose mentor is Paul Chu, founding director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, is focusing on the synthesis and properties of topological insulators and superconductivity. When he completes his Ph.D. in fall 2015, he plans to continue doing academic research and wants to teach young students.

Adjusting to life in the U.S. after the European lifestyle takes some time.

“In Europe, public transport goes everywhere; here it is different,” said Merzu Kebede, who also entered the program in fall 2010. “Transportation was a big problem at first. The good thing about this program is that it helps us learn to get socialized in a new area and find information that is helpful to us. Now, I have met other Ethiopians, and life is much easier.”

Kebede is working with his mentor from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center on a mathematical simulation directly related to cancer treatment. After he completes his Ph.D. in spring 2015, he plans to do a postdoctoral fellowship with his mentor, who is moving his lab to Stony Brook University in New York.

The fact that two other ICTP students were at UH helped Emmanuel Epie make his decision. “They were doing well in the Ph.D. program at UH, and it gave me hope that I would also succeed,” he said.

Epie says the transition from a European lifestyle to the U.S. was a huge challenge, but he was able to quickly make friends who helped him adjust. “Based on my experiences so far, of all the countries I have been to, America is a more open society,” he said.

For his Ph.D., he is focusing on material analysis using ion beam-induced luminescence. “After completing my Ph.D. in fall 2016, I hope to do a few years of postdoctoral fellowship, build collaborative alliances with other research groups, and then return to Cameroon to help train young, brilliant emerging scientists,” he said.

“The seven ICTP students have developed a wealth of professional connections reaching from their home country, to ICTP to UH,” Ordonez said. “We hope to build on those connections by bringing more ICTP students to UH and showcasing our ICTP students at one or two Student Research Events each year.”

- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics