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Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program

The SURF program provides research opportunities for students to work with internationally known NIST scientists, to expose them to cutting-edge research and promote the pursuit of advanced degrees and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). SURF gives students an opportunity to:

  • Gain substantive career experience related to academic interests
  • Acquire lifelong leadership, management, and analytical skills
  • Learn about a career in public service
  • Build professional relationships, contacts, and networks
  • Observe the daily operations and working environment of a premier federal laboratory

Imagine Yourself in the NIST Laboratories

NIST seeks students from a broad range of STEM disciplines, including but not limited to biochemistry, biology, biophysics, chemistry, computer science, engineering, materials science, mathematics, nanoscale science, neutron research, physics, and statistics. Students work under the guidance of a research mentor in NIST Operating Units (OUs). The following OUs participate in the SURF program: 

  • Communications Technology Laboratory (CTL)
  • Engineering Laboratory (EL)
  • Information Technology Laboratory (ITL)
  • Material Measurement Laboratory (MML) in partnership with the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR)
  • Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML)
  • Other offices occasionally host SURF participants: Technology Partnerships Office (TPO), Special Programs Office (SPO), Standards Coordination Office (SCO)

As part of the application process, all applicants must identify and select first and second-choice host laboratories/offices for placement consideration. Applicants should carefully choose host laboratories/offices because the completed application is considered primarily by the first-choice host laboratory. 

Due to the multidisciplinary nature of NIST's research, we encourage students to look through the different laboratory websites to discover interesting project areas. For example, a computer science student may find project opportunities in CTL, PML, and EL in addition to the logical choice of ITL. Similar opportunities exist for those in other disciplines. For a detailed description of SURF projects in each NIST laboratory and prior acceptance rates, students are encouraged to review laboratory descriptions and acceptance rates at

For in-person fellowships, all students must work at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD for the entire appointment. For virtual fellowships, all students must work remotely for the entire appointment.

While duties and responsibilities may vary by laboratory, all students must, in a format (in-person or virtual) consistent with their fellowship:

  • Work with their mentor on a designated research project
  • Attend a technical seminar series
  • Participate in professional development and group activities
  • Compose and submit an abstract halfway through the program summarizing research accomplishments
  • Deliver an oral presentation during the final week of the program