Share on X Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Summer interns in front of PPPL's entrance. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Office of Communications) Written by Jeanne Jackson DeVoe Olivier Tattegrain Sept. 14, 2023 During a short 10-week period this summer, more than 40 interns at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) took an in-depth course on plasma science and fusion energy, worked on hands-on research projects with scientists and engineers, and managed to fit in some fun trips to the beach and New York City. It was the first time the internships were fully in person at PPPL since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the interns made a lively addition to the Laboratory. The future scientists and engineers wrapped up their summer by presenting their research at poster sessions, and many will now go on to present their work at the biggest conference in the plasma physics and fusion energy field, the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics Conference in Denver from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3. “These internships are an important first step in students’ careers as plasma and fusion scientists and engineers, and we loved having them,” said Arturo Dominguez, head of science education. “Nothing replaces being in the Lab — being able to have casual conversations, seeing where all the projects are, and knowing about everything going on here is invaluable.” The interns represented different internship programs, all of which seek to attract young scholars from diverse backgrounds. Several interns were part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Community College Internship (CCI) and the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship, known as SULI, a program in which all 17 DOE laboratories/facilities participate as well as GA. The program is funded by the DOE’s Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) office. A handful of interns participated through the Plasma and Fusion Undergraduate Research Opportunities, or PFURO, where interns work with other institutions, funded by FES. In addition, two graduate students were part of the GEM Fellowship Program. With the Laboratory growing its engineering operations, several interns also worked in the Engineering Directorate in PPPL’s Engineering Undergraduate Internship Program. And for the first time, the Lab also offered internships for operations, including in the Human Resources Department through a Pauline Dande internship and the Communications Department. Below are some brief profiles of some of the interns. Photo by Michael Livingston Andrea Paola Hernandez A student researcher “falls in love” with plasma physics Andrea Paola Hernandez is a rising junior at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, who came to PPPL as a SULI student after learning about PPPL through the Workshop in Plasma Physics for Undergraduates last summer. Paola Hernandez said she didn’t know about either fusion energy or plasma physics because her physics classes hadn’t delved into those subjects. That changed when she came to PPPL for the undergraduate workshop last year. She learned much more during the 10-week SULI internship, which, like all the internships, began with a two-week introduction to those topics. “This is a branch of physics that I just fell in love with — the idea of renewable energy and doing something that can change the world.” Andrea Paola Hernandez, a physics major at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, was a Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) student, in the Surface Science and Technology Laboratory at PPPL. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Office of Communications) Paola Hernandez particularly enjoyed performing hands-on experimental work with researcher Shota Abe and other interns and physicists in the Surface Science and Technology Laboratory headed by Bruce Koel, a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Princeton University. The group worked on a diagnostic tool that will measure how materials like tungsten and other plasma-facing materials react when exposed to charged particles called ions. Paola Hernandez built the special cart that holds the probe. The internship put Paola Hernandez on a new career path. “For now, I’d like to venture into plasma physics and see where it takes me,” she said. You can view an Instagram reel of Paola Hernandez here. Photo by Michael Livingston Max Mateer An engineering student with a passion for fusion energy Max Mateer, a nuclear engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who was an engineering intern, has been passionate about fusion energy since they first learned about it at their school in Pensacola, Florida. Mateer worked with another intern, Piotr Bunkowski, on their project under postdoctoral fellows Siwei Chen and Yi Li and engineer Yuhu Zhai. They worked on a method to analyze superconducting tape, which is just a tenth of a millimeter thick but super strong, has zero resistance and can thus be used as a magnet in future fusion devices. They and Bunkowski designed a reel-to-reel system that can test the uniformity of the superconducting tape. They also worked on a helium recovery system to recover the material, which is in short supply and very expensive. Max Mateer, a nuclear engineering student at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta who was an engineering intern, in front of a device designed to test the uniformity of superconducting tape that they designed with another intern. (Photo by Gwen McNamara) “The whole reason I got into nuclear engineering was to get into fusion. I’m in engineering to help people,” Mateer said. “These are ways we can move forward and not only help the world on a global scale but help it on a population-wide individual scale. It’s helping every single person — that feels like something that’s monumentally important to me.” Photo by Gwen McNamara Sam Rohwer Learning new skills as a Pauline Dande HR intern Sam Rohwer is a senior at Rutgers University from Bayonne, New Jersey, majoring in history and political science. In his position at PPPL, Rohwer works with the human resources (HR) team to help with their diversity and equity efforts. To do this, Rohwer worked on the onboarding process to improve the systems of hiring new employees and helped to recruit from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs). “Working with the Department of Energy and Princeton is a much more professional environment than where I’ve worked before,” said Rohwer. “I think that obtaining the knowledge that I’ve gained from working here has improved my abilities in HR.” Sam Rohwer, a senior at Rutgers University, who was a Pauline Dande intern with the Human Resources Department talks to Shaina George, a talent acquisition partner. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Office of Communications) Through the Pauline Dande internship, college students like Rohwer can work with PPPL to develop their skills in HR and prepare them for careers after graduation. PPPL established the Pauline Dande internship in 2021 in honor of Pauline Dande, a young HR staff member who passed away of sickle cell anemia and liver disease at age 26 in 2020. Rohwer has developed a stronger understanding of how HR works in a professional environment through the internship. “The team here is great,” Rowher said. “I was given the freedom to learn and grow and was given guidance when necessary.” Photo by Michael Livingston Bjorn Solberg Learning new computational skills and having fun on Princeton’s campus Bjorn Solberg has wanted to pursue a career in physics since they were in high school and growing up in Twin Rivers, a rural community outside Minnesota. But coming from a family in which neither of their parents went to college, they couldn’t picture enrolling in a four-year college. After a brief stint trying to pursue an air traffic controller career, they returned to college in 2019 to major in physics and mathematics at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. Now, they would like to go to graduate school and teach physics at a small college. Solberg said they enjoyed learning new computational skills working as a SULI student with physicists Nathaniel Fisch and postdoctoral researchers Elijah Kolmes and Ian Ochs. Solberg used computer codes to create models measuring simulated energy conversion to electricity from nuclear fusion with the goal of making energy conversion more efficient. Bjorn Solberg, a SULI student at Augsburg University in Minneapolis, at work. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Office of Communications) Solberg said they valued being able to work independently and learning more computational skills during the internship. As someone who never had the experience of going away to college, they also enjoyed the campus life at Princeton University and taking trips to New York and the beach with other students. “It was really a wonderful summer,” they said. “It feels like a vacation … except for all the work!” Aidan Simpson A project in astrophysics Aidan Simpson was a child when he began watching Neil deGrasse Tyson talk about space on television, and he has been hooked on the idea of becoming an astrophysicist ever since. Simpson came to PPPL as a fellow in the GEM Fellowship Program, an internship for graduate students aimed at diversifying the science and mathematics fields in which participating institutions help pay for students’ education. This fall, Simpson starts a doctoral program in astrophysics at the University of Chicago after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Aidan Simpson, a a graduate student in astrophysics at the University of Chicago who is a GEM fellow, at work. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Office of Communications) Simpson’s internship was in his chosen field. His project with physicists Igor Kaganovich and Tasman Powis, in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire, was to help create software to model the magneto-beam experiment, which aims to identify the magnetic field lines of Earth’s magnetosphere. The experiment would fire electron beams from a sounding rocket into the Earth’s magnetic field. The electron beams would then trace the magnetic field lines, bounce off a mirror at the South Pole, and be detected as they return to the rocket in the Northern Hemisphere. "This summer allowed me to explore a different area of physics that I have never had the chance to explore,” Simpson said. “ It has also given me the chance to work on a large computing project from scratch which has given me much needed experience going forward into graduate school." Photo by Michael Livingston Simeon Salia A summer working on a cutting-edge stellarator Simeon Salia, the other GEM fellow at PPPL over the summer, was wildly enthusiastic about his internship and equally excited about anything plasma related. In fact, “All Things Plasma” is Salia’s chosen name for a future company that would, as the name implies, address the many uses of the ionized gas called plasma. “Plasma is my primary interest –– all things plasma related because of the immense amount of applications plasma can have in engineering, medicine, agriculture and others,” he said. Simeon Salia, a graduate student in aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology who is a GEM fellow, working on the m-Stellarator Experiment or MUSE. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Office of Communications) A graduate student in aerospace engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Salia spent the summer working on the m-Stellarator Experiment or MUSE. MUSE is a tabletop permanent magnet fusion device with twisty coils called a stellarator that physicist Michael Zarnstorff and others are developing. Salia used software called “LabVIEW” to map electron beams. This will help researchers understand how the charged particles move within the stellarator. He also worked on wiring for the stellarator and on one of three Langmuir probes, diagnostic devices used to measure and analyze the plasma. Zarnstorff said he would not have been able to make as much progress as he did during the past three years without the summer interns. “They’ve been key to the development of MUSE,” Zarnstorff said. He singled out Salia for helping to move the project forward. “He was the leader of the summer, actually,” he said. Salia was equally enthusiastic about his work with Zarnstorff. “You can do anything with Mike,” he said. “He might solve fusion power!” Photo by Michael Livingston Nick Davila An opportunity to bounce ideas off researchers and fellow students Nick Davila, a computational physics student entering his final semester at the University of Texas, Austin, is also determined to find a career related to fusion energy. An enthusiast since high school, he was an intern in the PFURO program. Davila spent the summer working with researcher Ka Ming (Jack) Woo at the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics. He could have worked from home but opted to work on-site at PPPL and live at Princeton University because he wanted the experience of working side-by-side with other scientists and interns. “Being here and meeting different people with different ideas is really helpful,” he said. Nick Davila, a computational physics student at the University of Texas, Austin, who was an intern in the Plasma Fusion Undergraduate Research Opportunity (PFURO) program, at work. (Photo by Michael Livingston/PPPL Office of Communications) Davila’s research focused on a method to understand what happens during the initial plasma foundation in a type of fusion reaction called “inertial fusion,” in which powerful laser beams implode plasma capsules to create a fusion reaction. The computer model aimed to understand what happens to the laser after it hits a metal or other material. While other software models are designed to do this, Davila’s model is designed to work more quickly and efficiently. Davila said he left the internship more determined than ever to enter the fusion energy field. “My time here has taught me that I really want to do fusion,” he said. “If we figure out fusion successfully, that's revolutionizing energy for the whole planet, that will help everyone.” Check out the PPPL Internships webpage News Category Intranet MUSE Science Education STEM PPPL is mastering the art of using plasma — the fourth state of matter — to solve some of the world's toughest science and technology challenges. Nestled on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, New Jersey, our research ignites innovation in a range of applications including fusion energy, nanoscale fabrication, quantum materials and devices, and sustainability science. The University manages the Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the nation’s single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences. Feel the heat at https://energy.gov/science and https://www.pppl.gov.