Carla Perez-Martinez remembers the first time she met with Professor Paulo Lozano to discuss a project that led to her work on a technique for the microfabrication of computer chips. “I was just so lost,” says Perez-Martinez, a senior who was then a sophomore.

But she’d worked hard to land a project through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) — Lozano was the sixth faculty member she’d approached — and she was determined to persevere. Seven months later Lozano, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, asked her, “just like that,” if she’d go to France for the summer to collaborate with a team working in the same area. “I did not believe it until I was on the plane.”

The experience, she says, was amazing. “I mean, I got to tour Paris every weekend, while during the week I did this awesome research.” Specifically, she was working with a technique pioneered in Lozano’s lab to create a beam of electrically charged particles. These, in turn, could be used to etch the surface of silicon with a number of advantages over the particles derived from a more conventional source.

Lozano’s confidence in the 21-year-old from Costa Rica paid off. Her summer in France resulted in a peer-reviewed paper in the Journal of Vacuum Science Technology B. Perez-Martinez is first author; coauthors are her French colleagues and Lozano.

In addition, Lozano later asked Perez-Martinez to present further results on a poster at a 2010 conference on micro and nano engineering in Genoa, Italy. The poster, one of about 400 at the conference, won first place for lithography, a way of creating patterns on surfaces. A paper on that work will come out later this year in the journal Microelectronic Engineering; Perez-Martinez is again first author.

The research wasn’t easy. Perez-Martinez remembers changing the experimental apparatus at least 20 times to get it to work, then having to monitor it for seven hours during each experimental run (with an occasional five-minute break). “Believe me,” she says, “it was not all happiness.”

Nevertheless, “This has been the best UROP anybody could ask for,” she adds, emphasizing the collegiality and helpfulness of Lozano and the graduate students. She also notes the importance of the funding that allowed her to participate in UROP; a few times she wasn’t sure that funding would continue. “So I mean, having alumni give back to the program is like, phew!”

Perez-Martinez aims to go on for a doctorate, hopefully in the same field, with the ultimate goal of becoming a professor. Because of her UROP experience, she says, she’s been accepted to every school she applied to.

In the meantime, she has one more commitment related to her UROP research. She’s been asked to present her results at yet another major conference, returning to campus just a few days before graduation. “I’m still in disbelief,” she says.