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2011 SPS National Interns
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Name Heather Petroccia
Villanova University
Internship: NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology)
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As of May 15, I am excited to say that I became a Villanova University graduate.  I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Physics as well as a Minor in Mathematics and an Honors Concentration.  I am originally born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but in an effort to switch it up, I decided to go to school just outside of Philadelphia.  During my four years at Villanova University, I participated in the Villanova band for two years as well as being a Teaching Assistant within the Physics Department. Also during that time, I did research at Villanova University, where I focused on Mossbauer Spectroscopy and its relation to coordination chemistry. Furthermore, I participated in an REU program at Lehigh University, where I studied biophysics and created a computational model of the leading edge of a motile cell. Due an incredibly busy school year and the myriad of opportunities within the field of physics, I have yet to make any definite decisions about my future; however, my plans do entail applying to Ph.D. programs for the fall 2012 semester. I am hoping that the research this summer will help me narrow down the field I would like to pursue.  I am very grateful for the opportunity provided by the SPS to intern at NIST and cannot wait for the summer to begin.

When I am not studying or rambling on about physics, I like to relax and hang out with my friends.  I love cooking dinners with them, which is often followed by intense game nights.  Our top games of choice are Scattergories, Scrabble, and other card games. Additionally, I love visiting museums, particularly art museums.  This past semester I also took a class on oil painting, which rekindled my passion for artwork. I hope to find more time to continue painting and drawing. I am very excited to start working this summer in Washington, DC and cannot wait to meet everyone. DC here we come!


Name Heather Petroccia
Villanova University
Internship: NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology)
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
Friday, July 22nd Friday, July 1st Friday, June 10th  
Friday, July 15th Friday, June 24th Friday, June 3rd  
Friday, July 8th Friday, June 17th  

Friday, July 22nd

This was a very hectic week! Since my last day of work is August 2nd , I really felt the pressure to make sure my project is completed on time. On Wednesday, I was very excited because I thought my computer program was almost done and all I needed was to add a few finishing touches; however, when I went to test my program to make sure it would remove a failed oxide from the system, I realized that I had a flaw in my program. All of my excitement quickly changed to panic on this realization, especially since my final presentation was on Friday. I woke up early on Thursday to go to NIST to start fixing my program. By the end of the day of Thursday, I had a pretty good idea of what I need to do to make sure it works. Research always seems to fail just before big presentations! But I guess it’s all part of the fun.

After a hard day of work on Thursday, I went to Anish’s ‘cosmic’ science café which was held at RFD in Chinatown and was entitled, “String Theory, the Universe, and the Theory of Everything?” A science café is an event where the general public and those who normally do not have access to scientists can come and have an informal conversation with a scientist. His café featured the renown string theorist Dr. James Gates. The café was fabulous. We even got to see the premiere for NOVA’s new series “The Fabric of the Cosmos” which is a four hour series based on the book by Brian Greene. The café was filled with good food and good questions, where Dr. Gates gave a brief introduction of the power of 10 ending with the size of the string (10^-34). It was really an interesting event. The statement that made the most impact from Dr. Gates was his inclination that the math which derived strings also hints that the world could be made out of a computer code.

Friday, all of the interns woke up early to travel to AIP to give our final presentations. Even though we are not finished with our work for the summer, due to a scheduling issue, the presentations fell during this week. I worked on my presentation every day after work and was more than ready on Friday to present everything I did. Talking in front of people makes me very nervous, but since I practiced my presentation throughout the week, I felt well prepared. Both Dave Seiler, the head of the semiconductor division, and John Suele, my mentor and leader of the CMOS and Novel devices group, came to listen to my presentation! Additionally my sister was able to come and learn what I did this summer. Binayak’s whole lab from NIST came to support him and listen to his presentation. I really enjoyed hearing about what everyone accomplished over the summer, and I feel so fortunate to have been selected for the internship at NIST. It was one of the best experiences and really opened me up to looking at other fields of study. Due to the internship, I am going to apply to material science Ph.D programs as well as biophysics programs for fall of 2012.

Friday, July 15th

The summer has seemed to just fly by! Next Friday, we will have our final presentations, which provide individual summaries of our internships, at AIP. I am already starting to get nervous thinking about having to present in front of so many important people.
This past week has been a very busy occasion: I have spent most of the week working to try to finish as much of the project as I possibly could as well as planning how much time I need to allocate to each task. Most of the week, I have been programming in LabVIEW. I have managed to write a program which samples the output voltages a hundred times across one oxide. The program then calculates the mean and the standard deviation and then outputs the values to a file. The program still needs a lot of work before it is finished, and I am really feeling the pressure of trying to produce a working test system. I hope next week, I am able to create a finished product.
On Friday, I visited National Science Foundation (NSF). Patricia Engel, a former SPS intern from 2006, is currently employed at NSF and organized a day full of meeting with NSF employees who informed us about the different jobs and tasks NSF manages. For those individuals in research, NSF is a very important organization due to the number of different people it funds. Last summer, I participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduates at Lehigh University that was funded by NSF. (Thanks NSF!) We met with a bunch of people including two employees who are material science program officers, two individuals who work for Undergraduate Education, two other employees who work in human resource development, and the director of NSF, Dr. Cora Marrett. The tour of NSF ended with a wonderful lunch at One Gen Thai where we were able to talk to some employees one on one. I sat next to a young woman named Melissa Jaquart, who was employed by NSF right after finishing her undergraduate degree and is now leaving to go to a graduate school in the fall. I really enjoyed the tour of NSF and found it to be a great end to a great week!

Friday, July 8th

This past week, my boyfriend came to visit me for the Fourth of July weekend. He just flew in from studying abroad in London. It was wonderful to see him after six months. Washington DC is wonderful for the Fourth of July. Friday evening, I attended jazz in the sculpture garden with my sister and her boyfriend. We had a chance to catch up and relax with some music and food. Jazz in the sculpture garden is always a relaxing way to spend the evening. Later that night, we went to dinner Oyamel Cocina Mexicana, where we had some delicious and adventurous tapas including a cricket taco, cactus, and ceviche. The food was wonderful and exotic! I was surprised that the crickets tasted so good. Except for a little extra crunch, they were barely noticeable.
Over the weekend, we had a full schedule of sites to see. I went to the National Cathedral, the Hirshhorn museum, the botanical gardens, and the museum of American history. The National Cathedral gothic architecture was awesome inspiring with its large vaulted ceilings and detailed stained glass. The walk from the metro to the building added to its grandeur due to the fact that we had to walk through a wooded walking path to arrive at the cathedral on the top of a hill. The size and stature of the building added to its glory.
The Hirshhorn museum was also a great place to visit for the weekend. I enjoyed all of the different exhibits of modern art. One of my favorite exhibits was on shadows and light. It depicted a twirling glass ring, which diffracted the light. It caused an intricate pattern of rainbows and shadows to form on the wall. The exhibit made me wonder if the artist realized all of the physics behind his masterpiece and why some of the glass made rainbows while other parts caused a shadow.
On the actual Fourth of July, the other interns and I gathered to stake out the perfect spot to watch the fireworks. We packed blankets, food, and water before heading over to the national mall. The trek seemed longer than normal in the heat. The original plan was to find a spot near the Jefferson memorial; however, the voyaged seemed too long, and we found a resting place at the Lincoln Memorial. I left my blanket and bag at the mall to explore some of the festivities including a Hare Krishna festival with my boyfriend. I came back just in time to watch the fireworks with the other interns. The site was amazing. It was honestly the best firework display I have ever seen and well worth the wait!
Finally the week ended with a tour of NIST. Binayak and I helped organize what the other interns would see earlier this week. The tour of NIST started off with a museum tour. The tour showed the Hall of Standards, which NIST helped to organize in order to better communicate between surrounding cities. One of the stories we were told was about a fire in Boston in the early 20th century where other firefighters were called from the area to help fight the fire. When fire trucks arrived their fire hoses did not fight on the fire hydrants, so all they could do once they arrived was watch the city burn down. I think this story speaks to the need for a national as well as global set of standards. The NIST tour continued with a breif introduction to what they do in the semiconductor department. We took a brief intermission to watch the last spaceship of its kind, the Space Shuttle Atlantis, to be launched. Next it was followed by three different laboratory tours and a tour of the nanofabrication laboratory, which was underground. Going to the nano-fab lab seem like a Disney ride with all of the doors they have on the elevator. After the tour of the facilities was over, some people stayed behind with me so I could show them what I have been working on over the past couple of weeks. It was really nice to be able to share what I have been doing.

Friday, July 1st

Week five was a short but very successful week. I was only able to work on my research project at NIST on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. During this time, I managed to finish all the necessary components on the fast switching system to test time dependent dielectric break down. I spent the week checking to make sure that the USB Digital I/O could turn each of the switches from off to high. The USB Digital I/O is a +5 volt power source which has a 96 pin controller. By programming a microcontroller, all of the 96 pins can be switched low and high. When the corresponding pin is switched to high, the switch is closed. Since I needed to be able to control all of the 96 switches, I needed to check and take measurements for all of the 96 switches. Not only did I have to check them all once, but I found a problem with the circuit board! The board was not connected to the ground terminal so we had to ground the circuit board. After fixing the problem, I had to take all of the measurements again, which was a tedious process. Since the circuit board is a system of the massively parallel switches, taking measurements is a very tedious and exhausting process. After checking the board, I soldered a coaxial cable to the output. Stripping and soldering the wires was a very time-consuming process because I kept shorting the wires. The wires would short when the insulator would melt from the heat of the solder and connect the output and ground. This wire connects the circuit board to a USB controlled A/D converter which is also controlled through a micro controller which I must program from LABView. I managed to install and start programming the A/D converter. The system is now ready to be programmed to test time- dependent dielectric breakdown. Woo!

On Thursday, I visited the American Institute of Physics to tour the facility and meet with different organizations. It was a long day where we met many different organizations. In the morning we met with one of the heads of the American Association Physics Teachers, and we discussed what brought us into physics and what was our most inspiring moment that we have had in physics. One of the most inspiring situations in physics for me occurred while I was attending an American Society for Cellular Biology Conference. The mentor I was working under at the time, Dimitrios Vavylonis, was mentioned during a session where he was cited for his work. His model predicted clumping of actin filaments during cell division under certain conditions. They checked to see what was happening experimentally and sure enough he was right. I really enjoy seeing how modeling is significant and leads to accurate predictions. It was wonderful to take the time to reflect on all the interns' personal experiences with physics and why they are here. Next we visited with Physics Today and talked with the head editor. Physics Today is a magazine which reaches around 450,000 different subscribers. He discussed how he must keep the interest and approval of these subscribers, where many are the top experts in their field. Next, we visited the library which is run by American Center of History for Physics. We also talked with AIP Government Relations and News and Media Services. We finished the night with a BBQ at the Dylla’s where we were surrounded with good friends, food, and laughter.

Friday, June 24th

I cannot believe it is already week four! Last weekend was a great start to a really great week. Friday night, I attended a concert with the other interns. We saw Noah and the Whale at the 9:30 Club, which is a small club with standing room only. Then Saturday morning, I caught a 5:30 AM bus to Philadelphia to meet up with my best friend from college and drive to the beach at Atlantic City where we met up with our other friends from school. There is nothing like a good weekend at the beach, where we could lay in the sunshine and swim in the ocean. Although DC is a wonderful place to stay, it was really nice to visit my friends from college. I miss them so much!

Despite all the travelling over the weekend, I was back in work on Monday bright and early. I finish my circuit board for the high switching system, and I was able to connect it to the USB Digital I/O lthis week. It was quite the struggle trying to get the two different objects to talk to each other, but I finally figured it out. The rest of the week was spent checking the circuit and learning how to program the microcontroller. The microcontroller is responsible for turning the switches on and off.

Tuesday evening after work, I attended another Science Café, which was held in Rockville, Maryland. Rockville is one metro stop away from my work, so I did not have to travel very far. The Science Café was held at Branded 72 Barbeque Pit where they served all kinds of slow roasted and smoked meats including pulled pork, ribs, smoked chicken, wings, etc. with all of the typical southern style sides such as collard greens, mac & cheese, potato salad, and cole slaw. It is not too often that you can find a BBQ place around Washington DC, so the food was eagerly welcomed by all of the SPS interns. The topic of the talk was entitled “Nano Science: Teaching Old Materials New Tricks” and was given by Michael S. Fuhrer, who is a professor and researcher at the University of Maryland Materials Research Science and Engineering Center. He discussed the trend of nano science, where scientists are taking materials that they already known and shrinking them down to the nano scale. When a material is made much smaller than it normally it is, its characteristics change much like how different sized instruments have different sounds and pitches. He spoke of the drive for nano technology to be incorporated in such as a way to improve efficiency of devices and reduce the overall energy use. I hope that some of the research which is currently going on will be implemented in such a way as to our nation greener and more environmentally conscious.

I have really enjoyed the time I spent with the other SPS interns after work. Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, we attended a concert at Farragut North where a Caribbean style band was playing. Sitting outside and listen to live music is always a pleasurable time. I think Fidelé especially enjoys our Wednesdays because he always ready to dance and continues to ask us all to stand up and boogie. In addition to attending the weekly concert, I have really tried to spend the evenings working out. Anish and I went for a long run one night where we ran past the back of the White House and continued all the way down to the World War II Memorial. We have also taken up going to the gym in the evening. It’s been a really entertaining week, and tonight, we have plans to attend jazz at in the sculpture garden! I think it’s going to be another great weekend.

Friday, June 10th

Last Friday after a long day of work, all of the interns of SPS along with other members of the SPS organization travelled to see a show called Capitol Steps. The show Capital Steps is a comedy act that has been feature on ABC's morning show. I loved the show! It featured a combination of musical numbers accented with political jibes. The show poked fun of recent news events including the Weiner incident and the tension between Trump and Obama over his birth certificate. It was a very well put together and entertaining event. Afterwards, we walked to the Capitol Brewery to have a bite to eat!

Sunday, I made plans to meet up with my sister, who is a resident of DC. It’s really nice to have my sister living so close by for a change. She invited me to attend a wine tasting which her friend, Chris, orchestrates every Sunday night for his friends and some members of his church. The tasting featured Portuguese grapes and included a Ruby and Tawny port as well as a regional red wine. It was really interesting learning how to study the characteristics of the wine including its color, age, alcohol content, smell and palate. Chris is training to be a Master Sommelier and provided everyone with a wealth of information. I enjoyed learning about wine so much I am going to make some plans to have a few private lessons in wine tasting.

On Monday, I attended my first Science Cafe. A Science Cafe is an event where members of the scientific community listen to a speaker and discuss a subject in a casual and friendly atmosphere. The Science Cafe I attended was held at the restaurant BusBoys and Poets and featured a speaker, Joe Palca, who is a science correspondent for National Science Radio. Mr. Palca held a lecture titled, "The Science that Bugs Us". The talk discussed how some individual adapt to some daily annoyances while other people allow the event to drive them bonkers. It was a nice way to spend an evening after a day of work. I cannot wait to attend the Science Café which is being organized by our SPS intern Anish!

Friday, June 10th

Despite the balmy hundred degree weather, this week has still managed to fly past in a whirl wind. I am happy to say that I have finally adapted to the DC lifestyle including riding the metro and working nine to five. With a little help from the GPS on my phone, I feel fairly confident navigating around DC to different restaurants and museums. I even trekked by myself to the mall at Pentagon City without becoming lost. Although much of the week was spent organizing paper work and ensuring that I have all the appropriate training to start my research, it still feels productive and overall satisfying.

My week at NIST commenced with a basic introduction to soldering electronic components on to printed circuit boards. For those individuals who are not familiar with soldering, soldering is when a hot iron is used to apply solder, which is composed of a specific combination of such metals as tin, silver, and lead , to create atomic bonds between the electronic components and the printed circuit board. A post-doctorate student from Nepal showed me how to surface mount capacitors and resistors as well as how to attach chips to the board. She was very patient with me while I tried to adhere the millimeter-sized electronic components. Despite the fact that soldering was frustrating at times, it was a welcoming change for me. In the past, I have participated in projects which were mainly theoretical in nature, and soldering provided me with a chance to step into the lab and perform experimental work. Although soldering does not require a lot of cognitive skills, I enjoyed the task and understand how fulfilling it could be to one’s own design come to fruition. After some practice, I managed to finish a circuit board that will function as a switch for a device where we will test for the time-dependent dielectric breakdown of silicon dioxide. In the next few days, I am getting reading to start writing a computer program using LabView to control the switches on the circuit board I just finished soldering. I cannot wait for the challenge to commence!

After returning to my office after working in the lab on Tuesday, I was surprised by a post-it saying that someone had stopped in to see me. The note was from Bill Ott, who is the Deputy Director for Measurement Science for the Physical Measurement Laboratory, asking me to stop-by the Physics building for a chat about Villanova University, SPS, and Pittsburgh. Later in the week, I met with him, and he told me about his family and how he became Deputy Director at NIST. While Dr. Ott attended Saint Joseph’s College outside of Philadelphia, both Dr. Ott’s son and I had attended Villanova University, its long known rival. He spoke of where he and his son chose to continue their studies. Additionally, he revealed how he started his long career at NIST, which started at the time when the current location of NIST organization was being built, as well as how he worked his way up within the organization. I found his long standing dedication to physics along with his compassion towards me reassuring that I had chosen the right field of study. His accomplishments ignited a strong desire to begin my own career in physics. I am so grateful that I was given a chance to meet with such a distinguished member of the NIST organization. These past two weeks were full of so many wonderful surprises that I am not sure how this experience can become any better.

Friday, June 3rd

I arrived in Washington D.C. from Pittsburgh late Sunday evening in the hope of avoiding Memorial Day traffic, which flooded into DC during the weekend. Washington DC was filled with individuals touring the capital. The city appears to have many opportunities for young individuals including Monday night movies, daily concerts in the Kennedy Space Center, jazz in the Sculpture Garden, and a seemingly endless array of monuments and museums. After meeting all nine of the SPS interns, there seems to be a consensus that we would attend one museum each weekend in the hopes of conquering the myriad of places by August. I am looking forward to touring the museums with my fellow interns.

Throughout the summer, I will be staying on GW campus in a dorm called the International House. The boarding is small yet sufficient and equipped with a small galley kitchen. The housing is located near the Foggy Bottom Metro Station. During the next nine and a half weeks, the SPS interns will disperse to different organizations throughout DC including the US House Committee on Science, Representative Rush Holt’s office, the American Institute of Physics government relations, and the American Institute of Physics Center for the History of Physics, to take part in numerous programs promoting science outreach, policy, and research. My internship is with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and I am very grateful to be working with such a prestigious institution.

Before we could start our summer internships, we ventured to College Park, Maryland for orientation at the American Center for Physics, where we were greeted by SPS staff with tons of smiling faces and a plethora of coffee and donuts. The orientation commenced with Gary White handing out holographic diffraction grating glasses, which made the room appear even more cheerful by adding a coat of rainbows to the view. Adding to the atmosphere of the room were life-size pictures of famous physics including Einstein, Feynman, Newton, and Gell-Mann who were all posed next to depictions of their famous experiments.

After introductions with the staff, we were informed that someone, who was interested in creating strong relations between science and government, would be joining us for lunch. We were greeted by John C. Mather, who won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the blackbody form and anisotropy of the comic background radiation. In addition to funding the two Mather interns, he took a personal interest in aiding the communication between science and government as well as the future of science. It was such an honor to have lunch with such a prominent figure in science and the excitement still has not worn off.

The next day, I made the commute between Foggy Bottom to Gaithersburg, Maryland, the location of NIST. The travel was not a small feat. Seventeen metro stops and a short shuttle ride later, Binayak, another SPS intern who will be working at NIST, and I arrived at work. This summer, I will be studying semiconductors and their time dependent dielectric breakdown. I am very enthusiastic to start my work and am looking forward to a great summer.

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Name Heather Petroccia
Villanova University
Internship: NIST (National Institute of Standards & Technology)
Follow SPS on: Twitter Facebook YouTube Photobucket The Nucleus Email and Share
Final Presentation

Integrated High Switch Test System to Determine Time-Dependent Dielectric Breakdown

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