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2009 SPS National Interns
2009 Interns | Past Interns | About the Program

  • Introduction
  • Online Journal
  • Final Presentation
Laurie Stephey Laurie Stephey
Rollins College (Winter Park, FL)
Internship: National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)
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I'm Laurie Stephey. I recently graduated from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida with a BA in Physics. I am interested in every kind of science, but space and the space program, materials science, acoustics, climate science, and geology are my current favorites. I love discovering new things and working with my hands, so research is something I really enjoy.

I plan to attend graduate school, but as I've had a hard time narrowing down my interests, I am taking some time off from school and will be serving in AmeriCorps next year as a water quality intern in Knoxville, TN. I am also interested in the outdoors, art, music, reading, SCUBA diving, biking, and the well-being of the environment. I am very excited to start research at NIST and to meet everyone this summer!


Laurie Stephey
Laurie Stephey
Rollins College (Winter Park, FL)
Internship: National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
Final Reflections Friday, July 31st Friday, July 10th Friday, June 19th
Photo Album Friday, July 24th Friday, July 3rd Friday, June 12th
Friday, August 7th Friday, July 17th Friday, June 26th Friday, June 5th

Final Reflections

Before this summer, I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay in science. The long hours, the constant trouble-shooting, and idea of spending the next six years working on a project was daunting to say the least. But I really and truly enjoyed my work at NIST this summer. I enjoyed attending the weekly symposiums at NIST and learning about new fields, I enjoyed hearing about the other interns’ work at NASA and ACP, and I felt at home every time I walked into one of the science-based Smithsonians. I realized that though it is a lifetime commitment, it is really what I want to do. The scientific community has the potential to do so many good things for the world, and I want to be a part of it.

The SPS internship really motivated me to continue on my path to becoming a scientist.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work at NIST; it was so exciting to be part of a community in which so much incredible work was going on all around me. All in all, it was a fantastic summer.

Finally, I would like to say thank you to the following people:

  • Kendra Rand, Gary White, and all the other great people at SPS
  • Everyone at the ACP who made this opportunity possible for me
  • Dr. Nadine Gergel-Hackett, my awesome advisor, Dr. John Suehle, and the rest of the great people I worked
    with at NIST
  • Dr. Joe Kopanski and the SURF program
  • The other fantastic SPS interns
  • My thesis advisor, Dr. Elton Graugnard, for encouraging me to apply for this internship, and my academic advisor, Dr. Thomas Moore, for all his help and encouragement

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Friday, August 7th

Well, I finally made it home. I was the last to leave, and I took the train home, so I’m pretty sure that I win the award for last one home. The trip was relaxing though, and I was glad for the opportunity to avoid the airport.

We had one heck of a week. The tour at NIST turned out really well. We visited the NCNR (the center for neutron research) and saw a lot of their machinery and heard some excellent explanations of the work they do. (I had no idea that you could do so many awesome things with neutrons!)  We also toured the NIST museum and saw some of America’s old “standards” (the kilogram, the meter, etc.). We also had the opportunity to show everyone one of the coolest things on the NIST campus—a graft (or a clone, really) of a tree on Isaac Newton’s family farm. We ate one of the (not very ripe) apples, so maybe I’ll wake up a genius one of these days. Finally, we had the opportunity to visit the Nobel laureate Bill Phillips’ lab and see a giant laser cooling apparatus. We could literally see the cooled atoms trapped between the laser beams—it was the “coolest” thing I’ve ever seen!  (Really, it was—I think the trapped atoms were several millionths of a degree above absolute zero).

That night, we were invited to a picnic at Fred Dylla’s house. We had some excellent barbeque (and I ate a lot of cornbread) and spent a good couple hours playing croquet, horseshoes, and just lounging around with the other interns and some people from the ACP.

Tuesday was my final day at NIST. I finished wrapping everything up with my advisor, and then she took me to lunch at an Indian buffet. It was pretty sad to say goodbye to everyone at NIST—I wouldn’t have thought that in two months, I could have met so many fantastic people. I really will miss everyone in the CMOS and Novel Devices group and all of the great SURF students I met as well.

Wednesday was our final wrap-up session at ACP. We talked a lot about what was good about the internship and what wasn’t so good… but to me, almost everything was good.

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Friday, July 31st

These days, I’m spending most of my time here at NIST wrapping things up. I’ve written a pretty extensive instruction manual with my advisor for her to use if she needs to take more data, replicate any of my work, and make sense out of everything to continue this study. (It’s funny—the more we work on this project, the more we see that the have to do). I’m also just about to finish analyzing my last set of data, and nerdily, I am looking forward to seeing the results.

I have to admit that it will be slightly weird next week when I’m not in lab anymore. Actually, it’s going to be extremely weird not to go back to school at all. While I really am looking forward to doing something else for a year, I have this strange feeling that after a few months, I am going to miss my life as a scientist.

I know I say this a lot, but it really was an exciting week. We celebrated my awesome roommate’s birthday last weekend with another trip to Denny’s. We also played lots of MarioKart with some of the other interns. The competition got pretty heated, but I guess that’s not surprising when you think about who we are (and our collective video gaming skillz).  

My good friend is currently living in Baltimore, and this week she talked me into coming to visit and attending her kayaking class. Kayaking class isn’t a very accurate description though—it was really an extended how-to get-your-kayak-right-side-up-if-you-flip-it-over class. This is called “rolling” in the kayaking world, I am told. Anyway, I tried very hard, but I couldn’t quite do it. It’s okay— I still had a fantastic time!

The NASA tour yesterday was really cool. We went to a presentation about designing computer visualizations of research and data in the morning, and we toured the Goddard campus in the afternoon. I think clean rooms are awesome, and I was really excited to see one of NASA’s clean rooms yesterday. (Have you ever taken an air shower? I have!) We also toured some of the hangars where they build and test instruments, and we got to see some of the parts that were brought down from the recent Hubble repair mission. (It just so happened that the Hubble mission coincided with the week after I graduated, so I spent the majority of that week parked on the couch, watching all the spacewalks. It was beyond cool to see some of the parts right in front of me that I had seen them holding in space.)

I can’t believe that this time next week, I’ll be home. I’m looking forward to my last weekend here. I have so much to do and so little time!

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Friday, July 24th

Work this week has been much more relaxed. I finished analyzing the data for our 40:1 dilution devices and I am in the middle of characterizing the 80:1 dilution devices. I have also been talking a lot with Nadine about the direction of the project and what will happen when I leave. She will pick up wherever I leave off, so it’s really important that I leave everything in an organized, understandable manner. (It’s a good thing she is making me do all of this, because I am pretty lazy when it comes to organizing all my work. Though it’s a pain, I’m glad she is making me develop better research habits).  I have spent (and I will spend) the next few days writing up lists of procedures, compiling summary spreadsheets, and explaining and defining everything I have done this summer. She is planning to write a paper based on our work, and she can’t do it if she can’t understand what the heck I did.

Life outside of work has also been relaxing. A few of us went to trivia on Monday. Brad tried to come as well, but the bar didn’t allow him in because he’s still underage. (This was unfortunate because Brad is a trivia master and the rest of us are merely laypeople). Anyway, I think we took fifth place, and it was still a lot of fun.

Last night I had an epic adventure. I went to a concert at an outdoor amphitheatre called the Wolf Trap with a couple of the interns in the SURF program at NIST. The National Symphony Orchestra played some selections from Disney’s Fantasia and also Carmina Burana. Since we are broke college students (and er, graduates, I guess) we bought the cheapest tickets (lawn seating). This seemed like a great idea, until the skies went from dark to ominously dark and it started pouring. It was awesome though—listening to Night on Bald Mountain with lighting flashing across the sky and thunder rumbling in the background. Carmina Burana was beautiful, but I couldn’t hear a lot of it because by that time, it was a regular hurricane outside, and we were huddled under a tarp. The orchestra kept right on playing though, and it was by far my favorite orchestra concert ever.

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Friday, July 17th

Well, Week 7 has probably been my favorite week so far! Read on to discover why!

It started really well with a great trip to the beach. The beach and the weather were beautiful, and it was nice to relax and get away from everything for awhile. We played some volleyball, slept in the sun, played in the waves, and saw dolphins!

Monday and Tuesday were spent fabricating more devices, doing some electrical characterization, and preparing for my talk on Friday.

Tuesday night was a grand adventure. Harry Potter fans will remember that on Tuesday at midnight, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released. Of course, I couldn’t wait until the weekend like a civilized person, so I agreed to go with the other die-hard HP fans—Mary, Erin, Raina, and Daniel. However, earlier in the evening, I also agreed to go on a run with Leslie halfway across the city and into Virginia to visit the Dairy Queen that her boyfriend Jisoon’s family owns. The trip basically followed the plot of the infamous Charlie the Unicorn video on youtube (if you haven’t seen it, check it out). About one hour of running, two metro stops, two bus transfers, and two and a half hours later, we finally made it to glorious Dairy Queen, where Jisoon hooked us up with free banana splits. (Thanks Jisoon!) Of course, this trip took much longer than we initially planned, but thankfully I made it back to Georgetown just in time to catch my fellow interns and get into the theatre. (Thanks guys!!!!!) And yes, HP was awesome.

Wednesday was spent at ACP with the other interns. We each gave a practice presentation and were given critique by the other interns and many of the SPS people. I know it sounds a little stupid, but it was the first time I really came to understand what it is my fellow interns are doing. Everyone really is doing awesome work and I am very proud to be a part of such a great group.

Thursday was also a fantastic day. Two of my friends from Rollins (also physics majors) came to visit this weekend. They came to NIST and I showed them around the various labs where I work. My advisor suggested taking them down to the Nanofab (clean rooms) to watch through the observation windows. We walked down there, but when we arrived, the researcher who walked down with us asked if we would like to suit up and come in. Well OF COURSE we did, so the three of us were dressed in bunny suits and walking through a clean room about 15 minutes later. It was so awesome to see all the equipment they use and giant, shiny wafers of silicon just sitting on tabletops. It was also really cool to see so many things I was able to recognize—I really am starting to feel like a scientist.

And Friday was the big day! All of the presentations went really well. I was a bit nervous giving mine, but I hope that I got the point across and that the audience understood why our research is important. It was also really nice to have so many of my friends from home there. Though I enjoy giving talks, I am relieved to be done. I have so much that I want to accomplish in the next few weeks, and I am glad research is my number one priority.

Since my friends were here, I had a really great weekend. We spent the days visiting museums, walking around the monuments, and going out to dinner. At night, we played some pool at our favorite bar with some of the other interns. Since I had played a great deal with my two friends from Rollins, I was hoping to show off my recently honed skills, but unfortunately they were too good and I had to admit defeat. Scott and I made a valiant effort (sorry Scott), but it was still a lot of fun.

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Friday, July 10th

Well, life is pretty busy these days. Final presentations are coming soon… and believe me, I will be happy when they are over. (Not that I don’t like presenting, but I’d much rather be spending all this time in the lab instead of working on Powerpoint.)

Work at NIST is still going really well. Another week, another set of devices, another batch of data to analyze. It’s relatively easy to make the devices, but it’s difficult to keep up with all the electrical characterization and data analysis. I am doing my best, but it’s hard.

The 4th was a lot of fun! My friend from Baltimore stayed with me this weekend. She and another one of my friends (and all of her friends) and Ian and I went down to the Mall and fought the (better than expected) crowds to see the fireworks. It was so cool—the White House was on my right, the Lincoln memorial and the reflecting pool were in front of me, the Jefferson memorial was to my left, and the Washington monument was just behind me. It was pretty amazing! Ian brought some diffraction glasses, so we watched the fireworks through them—you could see the spectral lines! (Yep, we’re nerds).

A couple of the SPS interns are going to the beach this weekend. I’m pretty excited, even though I bet it won’t be as awesome as the beaches in Florida. No complaints though—I am happy to get out of the city and finally see the natural world again.

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Friday, July 3rd

Though I wasn’t sure it was possible, work is getting even more intense. (In a good way, though). I finally finished the preliminary analysis of the first two sets of devices—and it looks like good news. Without going into too much excruciating detail, it looks as if our devices can be switched from the low to the high state (high resistance to low resistance) as a result of the total charge the flows through the device. This means that the switching behavior we see may be a result of bias, charging, or both. It also appears to be an area-dependent phenomenon, so we can tentatively say that the charge travels in a front (through the whole area of the device) rather than a filament (through a thin line in the device). I know you all aren’t necessarily memristor fanatics out there, but this is exciting news! Of course, we need much more data to substantiate these claims, so I am back to fabricating and testing more devices. What a week-- all this, and I got to use the glove box twice!

 I am also starting to prepare for my final presentation for everyone at SPS (17 July) and the weekly presentation I give here at NIST (next Wednesday). In light of all our data analysis, I have a lot to say. Organizing it and getting it into a form that makes sense to everyone is going to be tricky, but if as a scientist I can’t communicate what we’ve done, then ultimately what significance does our work have? That is one thing I’ve really learned this summer—how important outreach really is. It finally hit home that unless the general population has some understanding of science, much of the work we do will be either ignored or misunderstood. Part of me wishes I hadn’t graduated yet so I could go home and push our SPS chapter to be a lot more active.

Life outside of work is, as always, really good. I am getting a whole let better at cooking (let’s face it, I couldn’t get any worse) and I ran to Virginia and back yesterday with Erin. (Doesn’t that sound awesome?) I am particularly excited for this weekend because it is the 4th of July! I think a lot of us are going to try to brave the Mall, so I will let you know how that goes.

Hope you have a great holiday weekend!

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Friday, June 26th

Week four has been pretty good. I’ve spent all morning listening to the All Michael Jackson internet radio station while doing my data analysis. : (

Data analysis has been the name of the game this week. I have been doing lots of electrical characterization of the devices I spent last week fabricating. I made about 30 devices and each takes about 30 minutes to an hour to characterize—and that’s only obtaining the data. Afterwards, I have to transfer the files to another computer so I can analyze them in Excel. We are looking for trends in the total amount of charge required for the device to switch from the low state to the high state (or vice versa), trends in total charge per area, and trends in switching bias. I am knee deep in data, but hopefully by the end of the day, I can begin to make sense out of everything.

As un-glamorous as this whole process sounds, it’s still pretty exciting. We are getting closer to understanding how memristors work, which is something that nobody in the world (to our knowledge, anyway) knows yet. It’s pretty awesome to be working on such a cutting-edge project.

Life outside of work is also good. I had dinner with a friend of mine that lives in the area last weekend, and another friend came to visit me from Baltimore the other night.  I’m looking forward to the weekend, sleeping in, and continuing to explore DC.

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Friday, June 19th

Happy Friday! Today is my favorite day of the week, mostly because today is Glove Box day! Device fabrication and characterization is going relatively smoothly, although data analysis is tricky when I am only just beginning to understand these strange little devices.

Life in DC is getting easier. I am finally starting to discover the locations of various important things including the post office and cheap (but delicious) Indian food. I wish I had my bike here, but it was just too hard to transport since Amtrak insisted that my bike be disassembled and placed in a box, saving them exactly 2 cubic feet of space. For now my transportation is limited to foot, the metro, and the shuttle that takes Brad and I to and from NIST every day. It’s all good though because there is certainly enough to see and do around here.

My parents drove up to visit me from Florida this past weekend. We visited Mt. Vernon (the home of George Washington) and toured many of the monuments around the Mall at night. (I think they are much nicer at night.) We were tired and sitting on bench just beside the Washington monument when one of the monument workers asked us if we had tickets for the 9:30 group. We answered that we did not and were just resting. He told us that it was not crowded at all, and that he could get us inside if we would like. And so just like that, we waltzed into the Washington monument without tickets on a Saturday night. The view from the top was beautiful—all the monuments were lit and the White House was in plain view. Thank you Mr. Monument worker!

I also had several adventures with my fellow interns this week. After watching a comedy video about President Obama eating at a Denny's restaurant, Leslie and I decided that we really wanted to eat at Denny’s. We then located and traveled to the only Denny’s in this city. Washington, what gives? Your lack of cheap and horrible restaurants is depressing. Also, a lot of us watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, my favorite Harry Potter movie (and book). We are all very excited for the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and are hoping to watch all the movies just before we see the new movie. (Yes, we’re nerds. But that’s one of the best parts of this internship. We can make physics jokes and NOBODY makes fun of us!) Also, a few of us went to the Einstein Fellows reception last night. It’s a program for teachers who want to get involved in science policy and outreach, as best I understood. We met a lot of really interesting people and it’s good to know there are so many wonderful people teaching science.

Other than that, I have been doing lots of reading, playing with my new phone (it’s purple!), and enjoying Placebo’s new album, Battle for the Sun.

Until next week,


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Friday, June 12th

I know it sounds cliché, but I really can’t believe it’s already the end of Week Two. Time is flying.

Brad and I finally got our NIST badges on Friday, so we can finally get into buildings (rather than creepily waiting outside for people to come and then sneaking in behind them). I feel so official now!

As promised, research updates:

So far, everything is going well. (Knock on wood). I have spent this past week learning most of the techniques I will need this summer for device fabrication and characterization. I have learned how to use an evaporator to deposit the metal contacts of the device we are making. I actually have a background in a different kind of thin film deposition (atomic layer deposition, or ALD), so using a new deposition technique is pretty interesting. (Also, it seems so fast—we can grow 80 nm of film in a minute, whereas with ALD, it took pretty much all day.)

I also learned how to work in a glove box. It’s pretty awesome—I feel like I’m working in space or working with a dangerous virus. (The truth is, I’m not working with anything quite that exciting, but it’s still super cool). It’s pretty awkward to do delicate tasks with so many layers on my hands, but hopefully I’ll get better with time.

So far I’ve only had time to test a few of the devices, but several seemed to exhibit the properties that a memristor should. I’ll do more testing today and tomorrow, but the aim for this past week was just to ensure that we could replicate the results that were obtained last year. After that, we are free to start varying parameters like size and film thickness in order to better understand what really makes these devices work.

By the way, in case you are interested, there was recently a press release about the work that my advisor has done on this project. As I type this, it is currently displayed on the front page of the NIST website. (We’re kind of a big deal). You can watch the video here:

Life aside from research has also been really good. On Tuesday, we attended a play called “Legacy of Light” that portrayed the life of Emilie du Châtelet, a female physicist in the 1700s who has not really been recognized for much of her important work in Newtonian mechanics. We (the SPS interns) also went to dinner with the SPS executive committee—the dinner was great, and it was really interesting getting to know more people involved with SPS.

In other news, I’m doing plenty of hanging out with my fellow interns, walking around the city, reading, learning to cook with tofu, and I am looking forward to seeing my parents this weekend.

Until next week,

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Friday, June 5th

Hello from our nation’s capital! It has been a whirlwind of a week, but I will do my best to record the highlights and make this an interesting read.

I arrived via the Amtrak train on Saturday afternoon. It was my first train trip, and though it was over 19 hours long (I’m from Orlando), it was a great way to travel. No rush, no airport security… and no seatbelt sign! When I finally rolled into DC, I took a taxi from Union Station to the George Washington University campus, checked into my room, and unpacked. After more of the interns had arrived, we all went to dinner at a local pub and started getting to know each other.

Let me say this—hanging out with this many physics students is pretty awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I love all my non-science major friends, but being able to have discussions about quantum mechanics and how much more awesome the Olympics would be if they were held on the moon is pretty fun.

After a lazy Sunday exploring town, Monday was orientation—a non-stop, meeting new people, seeing new places, information extravaganza. Orientation was held at the ACP (American Center for Physics) Building in College Park, MD. I have to admit, it was pretty cool to see this “One Physics Ellipse” to which I had sent and received so much mail.  It was very cool (and also humbling) to meet some of the people who are keeping physics alive and well in this country (and the world).

After several hours in at the ACP building, Brad Dinardo and I traveled to visit NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology). We met our advisors and were introduced to the projects on which we will be working. I am working with Dr. Nadine Gergel-Hacket on a project involving the fabrication and characterization of memristors. (For those of you who don’t know, as I didn’t, a memristor is the fourth “missing circuit element”. There is an interesting article about the memristor in the May 2008 edition of Nature if you are so inclined.)

Anyway, after a few hours at NIST, we traveled back to GW via the Metro. (I love living in places with public transit). Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted and after eating some pasta (the food of choice of poor college students), I fell asleep.

Working at NIST is awesome. Around every corner there is something exciting happening. Everyone is extremely knowledgeable and very dedicated to his or her work. I guess I’m a giant nerd, but there is so much cool stuff here! Giant glove boxes, cryogenic vacuum pumps, evaporators, lasers, high-voltage labs, and huge microscopes—just to name a bit of what is here on our floor. I guess it goes without saying that I am pretty excited to work here.

Nadine is great and has kept me busy learning about my project, making a schedule, and starting to train me in how to use the various equipment necessary for our work. Today we actually started the device fabrication process, so I will keep you updated.

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Laurie Stephey
Laurie Stephey
Rollins College (Winter Park, FL)
Internship: National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
Final Presentation

The Fabrication and Characterization of Flexible TiO2 Memory Devices

In 2008, Hewlett-Packard reported that it had fabricated a memory device with properties consistent with a theoretical device postulated in 1971 called a memristor. At NIST, Dr. Nadine Gergel-Hackett has been working to fabricate similar devices using economical and simple fabrication techniques. However, the devices in the study were relatively large, of lower than desirable reliability, and the physics which governed their behavior were poorly understood. The goal of this project was to remedy some and possibly of all of these issues.

Two sizes of flexible devices have been fabricated (2 millimeter by 2 millimeter and 100 micron by 100 micron). Several thicknesses of the insulating material have been used to fabricate both device sizes, and the impact of changing insulator film thickness in the devices has been studied. By decreasing film thickness, the 100 micron devices were fabricated to switch at significantly lower bias. Parameters including charge magnitude, current magnitude, bias magnitude, and resistance have been investigated to search for potential trends in switching behavior. Preliminary analysis indicates that charge magnitude may be a contributing factor to switching and also that switching mechanisms may display some area-dependence. Work is ongoing to fabricate more devices and analyze more data.

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