2020 SURP Student of the Week: Nikki Frazer


Hometown: Victoria, B.C.

School and Year: 4th Year, University of Toronto 

Major: Physics; History and Philosophy of Science and Technology

What made you decide to participate in SURP?

After taking a combination of physics lab courses and philosophy of science courses that discuss how professional scientists do science, I was really interested in experiencing a side of science that typical undergraduate programs don’t offer – independent research! I think research is something that a lot of students don’t know that much about, because it isn’t really explained in courses. My professor in a “History of Cosmology” course actually encouraged me to apply after I discovered that I’m really interested in the history of the Universe – and I’m so glad that he did!

What is your favourite thing about SURP?

The adaptability of the SURP program has really surprised me this summer, and has been my favourite aspect of the program. I know that virtual SURP is different from previous years, but the passion from everyone involved has been very inspiring and definitely comes through the screen. I really enjoy the weekly talks from various professionals and researchers, as well as learning about what other SURP students are working on. I also feel like I learn a lot every time I talk with my wonderful supervisor, Dr. Rahman, who’s support and encouragement has helped me grow a lot throughout SURP. Even though I’m not working in a lab this summer, I still feel as though I understand what it means to do research, and that the work you’re doing matters more than the environment you’re in.

Can you tell us about your research project?

My research project, under the supervision of Dr. Mubdi Rahman and Natalie Price-Jones, explores the best ways to visualize galaxy merger trees in order to learn more about the history of galaxies. I work with high-resolution simulations like the Millennium Database Simulation from Virgo to explore properties of galaxies and look at them during merger events to learn more about their history. I generate plots that communicate information about galaxies using different visual techniques. I’ve learned a lot about python and plotting techniques, but I’ve also had to think about visualizations in general and what the best way to communicate information to an audience is. It’s especially important to choose which parameters to highlight on plots so that the information encoded in them is useful and clear.

Can you explain how SURP has perhaps been different from your undergrad work?

There are no answers you can check in the back of the book when doing SURP work. Most undergrad work challenges students with difficult problem sets, or complicated labs, but they always have a predicted outcome that can be checked. SURP doesn’t have that linear path to follow. It can be scary, but it’s also extremely liberating to know that your work depends on your creativity and problem-solving.

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to continue to explore the way science is done in the 21st century, and I’m interested in pursuing graduate school. My interests are still split in a couple of directions. Science communication has always felt like an important aspect of modern science, and I would love to explore it further. I also am very interested in the history of science, and thinking about science from an outside perspective. This summer SURP has made me consider learning more about the history of the Universe as well. No matter which path I follow, I know the research and collaboration skills I have learned will be invaluable!


2020 Student of the Week Archive

Jeff Shen

Sarah Thiele

Lechun Xing

Caleb Lammers