Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

October 1, 2018

Materials and Chemistry Institute summer interns and program organizers gather after a meeting with Physical and Life Sciences associate director Glenn Fox. Photo by Mark Gartland.

Each summer, hundreds of college students from around the country flock to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) campus to participate in LLNL’s varied and unique internship opportunities. This year, Megan Freyman and Rene Mercado, both graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), joined 82 other students in one such opportunity—a newly-refreshed summer program known as the Materials and Chemistry Institute (MaCI).

Sponsored by the Physical and Life Sciences (PLS) and Engineering directorates, the MaCI program offers a unique experience for undergraduate and graduate students alike. For 10–12 weeks, the students have access to state-of-the-art facilities like the Nanoscale Synthesis and Characterization Laboratory, the Jupiter Laser Facility, the Energetic Materials Center, the Center for Engineered Materials and Manufacturing and the National Ignition Facility, all while receiving real-world, applied research experience in materials synthesis, materials characterization, materials processing, analytical chemistry, actinide materials science, optical materials science, electrochemistry, materials engineering, materials chemistry and physics.

MaCI interns work with mentors on projects that directly impact LLNL’s national security mission. Freyman worked with several scientists in the Functional Materials Synthesis & Integration group to study the effect of electrolyte on the surface of copper catalyst for carbon dioxide reduction, while Mercado worked with a scientist in the Nanoscale Integration Science group to synthesize platinum nanocrystals using a ligand exchange method.

Working at LLNL helps diversify interns’ scientific backgrounds, something Mercado called out as an important contribution to his career. Though the research he completed at LLNL differed from his research at UCSC, he explained, “The methods I learned here sparked ideas to try in my graduate research and helped me think of a new approach to my research. I also gained knowledge that I can share with others.”

In addition to working with mentors, MaCI interns had the opportunity to network with Lab scientists through a variety of social activities and presentations. At these social activities, such as the yearly Materials Science Division summer picnic, interns interacted with other peers, postdoctoral students and staff scientists, who all shared knowledge of LLNL, research expertise and career tips.

Freyman found these social interactions valuable, as they introduced her to LLNL’s massive collaborative network. “I enjoy working with the people at the Lab,” she said. “Everyone is so nice and willing to help—if I have a question about my project, and someone down the hall has the expertise, I know can ask them for help.”

Fostering this sense of community and collaboration was one of the organizers’ key goals. “The summer program served to enrich the summer intern experience by creating more of a community around materials science and engineering,” said Chris Spadaccini, one of the program organizers. “This exposed the students to a broader range of activity across the Lab beyond their own summer projects.”

This year’s weekly summer seminar series provided an additional way for interns to expand their network and learn more about science around the Lab. Each week’s seminar featured a scientist covering topics such as “Combining Electrochemistry and Chemical Engineering to Convert Carbon Dioxide to Fuel,” “Scientist on Capitol Hill” and “Materials Interfacing with Biology: From Drug Delivery to Carbon Capture.” The MaCI presenters also talked about their career paths, giving tips to help the interns succeed as they begin their own journeys.

Of the seminar series, program organizer and mentor Caitlyn Cook said, “The presentations enabled a convenient overview of the collaborative and multidisciplinary environment at the Lab. Students working on projects in Engineering had the chance to learn about the projects in PLS and discover how many of the projects were a collaborative effort between the two directorates.” Agreeing, Mercado noted that the seminars introduced him to other researchers and gave him a look into areas of LLNL that he may be able to collaborate with in the future.

Summer intern Rene Mercado discusses his poster with Glenn Fox. Photo by Ian Fabre.

The summer’s capstone was the yearly Student Poster Symposium—an opportunity for interns to gain experience presenting and explaining their work to people with all levels of expertise. Mercado joined scores of other MaCI interns at the symposium, presenting his poster titled “Synthesis of Platinum Nanoparticle Colloidosome Composites.”

Overall, Freyman has certainly enjoyed her time at LLNL. In fact, this year marks her second internship and third appointment at LLNL—she started as an undergraduate intern in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program and followed up with a post-college appointment before beginning her graduate studies at UCSC. “Coming here as an undergrad helped me understand the national lab system,” she said. “I learned how important collaboration is to science. Internships are a good way to get to know the Lab with other people who are also new to the lab system—we can find things out together.”

As another successful summer wraps up, the MaCI organizers are already looking forward to next year. “Summer interns bring energy and excitement to projects and to the LLNL campus,” said Yong Han, a program organizer and mentor. “They are eager to tackle challenging problems and often accomplish tremendous amounts of work, contributing significantly to the projects they work on.”

Applications for next year’s iteration are now open. Program director Marcus Worsley encourages students interested in applying to the program to visit the MaCI summer internship webpage for additional information.