This week we caught up with Josh Tobar, a third year pre-engineering/pre-medical student at PUC, to talk about his summer internship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Who are you interning with and what is your job title?
This summer I did an internship at Vanderbilt University. I was a part of their Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, which is a collaboration with Fisk University. I am not too sure of my official title, but I would say it would be lab assistant. I was working on a research project attempting to produce a crystal that is both a semiconductor and a neutron detector.
What did an average day at your internship consist of?
Because I did not work on the Vanderbilt campus, I started taking the bus to work. Eventually I started running and biking there in order to get my exercise. I worked under a several scientists and a graduate student who showed me all the details that I needed to know. Once at the lab, we would check on the crystals being grown. We had to make sure that there had been no interruptions, such as power failures, overnight; if there had been, the process would have to be reset. The process was approximately two weeks long! After the crystals had been checked, we proceeded to different preparation tasks. On one day, we might prepare the vessels to grow the crystals. Another day, we might synthesize the materials. Yet another day, we might assemble the Bridgman Furnace setup needed to grow the crystals. Periodically, the graduate student would explain to me the concepts behind our processes and why we did experiments a certain way rather than other similar ways. At the end of the day I would run back the 2.3 miles to my apartment and go out to eat dinner with the other interns.
What makes this internship fun or interesting?
Material science showed me how fields blend together using the best of each field to produce a magnificent result. I was able to work with chemistry and apply concepts from physics to our theories. Everything that I learned in chemistry class was explained with physics or vice versa, such as ‘why are some materials semiconductors and others insulators.’
What's the most challenging part of this internship?
The most challenging part of the summer was taking in all the information given and understanding it. A lot of new concepts and ideas were served to me and I was expected to devour them. However, I took up the challenge and I was comforted and supported by the fact that I was not the only one struggling. The other interns were also struggling together with all the information given to them in their projects. We were in it together.
What knowledge and skills are you learning from the internship?
The biggest asset I gained from the internship was confidence. I started off the internship scared that I would not be able to perform as adequately as others, but once there I gave it all my effort and I surprised myself. I now have confidence in knowing that I can do research and be successful in it. Other than confidence I also learned concepts in material science and learned firsthand how to prepare an experiment and grow crystals. I also learned how to improve the crystal growing process to produce better results.
How did you hear about the internship?
I was able to get in contact with the founder of the program. He provided me with information about his colleague's project and provided me with a position under his colleague.
How does the internship relate to your career goals?
My main objective in engineering is to be able to design and create new machines and tools. Material science provides me with knowledge about the materials that my machines will consist of and may also give me the essential element for a future project.
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