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Alexandra Day

Wellesley College, NIST Intern

Alexandra is working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the Semiconductor & Dimensional Metrology Division.

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Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3| Week 4 | Week 5| Week 6| Week 7| Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Final Reflections | Final Presentation

Reflections on My SPS Internship

I canít believe itís already been a month since the end of the SPS internship program! Looking back on my experiences, Iím struck by how much I learned Ė both about myself and about what itís like to work at a national lab. One of the things I miss most about NIST is the atmosphere of discovery and research. Itís hard to transition back into a schedule of classes and meetings at college, and I miss having the opportunity to work on my own project and coordinate with a team of world-class researchers. I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to they dynamic environment at NIST and so I have been able to carry that energy and excitement into my academics this fall.

I also have fond memories of the support I received throughout the summer, both at NIST and at SPS. I was honored that Dr. Dave Seiler, chief of the semiconductor and dimensional metrology division at NIST, drove to College Park to see my final presentation. Many members of my group were supportive in the days and weeks leading up to my presentation, and I am grateful to them for their help. The SPS internship team at ACP also did a wonderful job supporting all of the interns. Toni, Kendra, and Elizabeth, were always available and were incredibly helpful throughout the entire summer. From planning awesome trips and outings to helping us prepare our presentations, they really made sure we enjoyed ourselves and got the most out of our summer. Living in DC was especially memorable for me, and I often find myself thinking back fondly on my experiences in the city.

The SPS program also helped me clarify what I want to do after college. I still want to go to graduate school and be a professor, but I think that SPS made me more committed to these goals. I have a better understanding of what postdocs and researchers do on a daily basis, and these insights will help me plan my future more easily. Working with MATLAB this summer made me realize the importance of solid programming skills, so Iím taking a computer science class this fall. Iím also very motivated to strengthen Wellesleyís SPS chapter and encourage more new members to join by hosting more events and participating in more outreach activities. Iím hoping to do research at MIT this fall and continue another research project that I started last year. In January 2014 and during the summer of 2014, I will participate in the Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley. Iím really excited for the Institute and all the things that the next year will bring.

Overall, my SPS internship was a wonderful experience and helped me grow as a person and as a scientist. I miss spending time at NIST and in DC, and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to do so. My internship was a very memorable experience and Iím confident that my experiences will help me as I embark on the next phase of my journey.

Week 10: Preparations, Presentations, and Packing: My Final Week as an SPS Intern
August 5-9, 2013

My final week was full of activities and it was lots of fun!  On Monday, I went to NIST for a few hours to get some final words of advice from my mentor about my presentation.  Afterwards, I traveled to ACP for a great lunch with Fred Dylla, the Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics. He spoke to us each individually and wanted to hear about all of our experiences as SPS Interns. It was a good time to reflect on my time as an intern and hear from someone who has been successful in his field. Afterwards, I ran though my presentation for Kendra, Toni, Daniel, Elizabeth, and the other interns and received valuable feedback. That evening, I practiced my presentation several times and made sure I was comfortable with it before Tuesday.

On Tuesday, all of the interns met at ACP in College Park for our final presentations. I was excited to see Dr. Dave Seiler and Dr. John Mather in the audience, and several of my family members were also there. After the presentations, we had a nice lunch at ACP and went on a tour of the State Department that Ro had organized. On the tour, we heard from three people with physics backgrounds who worked at the State Department. It was really interesting to hear about all the different paths people can take with a physics degree, and it was a great way to unwind after our presentations.

On Wednesday, we went to ACP to complete evaluations and finish up some necessary paperwork. The rest of the interns went on a tour of ACP in the afternoon, but I had to go back to NIST so I left early. At NIST, I said goodbye to everyone and organized my files for the scientist who will be continuing the project. It was a bittersweet moment for me as I reflected on my time at NIST and all that I’d accomplished.

On Wednesday evening, I said goodbye to the other interns and moved out of the dorms at GW. I was sad to say goodbye, but I know we’ll all keep in touch. I had a great summer as an SPS intern, and I’m so glad that I was given this opportunity. I’d like to extend a special thanks to everyone who helped me along the way – you made my internship so wonderful and memorable. Thank you all!

Week 9: August Already?
July 29-August 2, 2013

I can’t believe it’s August! This summer has absolutely flown by. I’m busy wrapping up my project at NIST and preparing for my presentation next week at ACP. My mentors have all been tremendously helpful – giving me feedback on my Powerpoint slides, helping me review background information, and supporting me through the last round of pretty intense math. I’ve had a bit of trouble lately getting all of the expressions into the correct format for analysis, but other than that, I’ve been making great progress.

I know that a great deal of the knowledge and skills that I’ve learned this summer will help me in my quantum mechanics class this fall and in the rest of my courses as well. I’ve definitely learned how to work more independently, how to do theoretical work, and how to communicate more effectively about my work. Everything I encountered this summer has given me some new skill or insight, and I am very grateful for that.

Earlier this week I met with Dr. David Seiler, the division chief for the Semiconductor and Dimensional Metrology Division. He was really supportive and we had a nice discussion. I’m glad Kendra encouraged me to reach out to him; it was a great experience and I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with him in the future.

I’m really looking forward to next week! It will be exciting to hear about everyone else’s projects in more detail and to share my work with others. We’re also going on tours of the State Department and ACP, which will be a great way for all of the interns to spend time together during the last few days of our time together. It’s been an amazing and rewarding summer, and I’m sad that it’s ending.

Week 8: Almost There!
July 22-26, 2013

This week I made a lot of progress at work and I’m excited to see how my project concludes in the next week or so. I’m working closely with the scientist who will be continuing my project after I leave, and it’s been a great experience. He is incredibly encouraging and has tremendous insight into what I’m working on. He really wants me to learn to think like a scientist and is helping me develop good habits that will come in handy in grad school and during the rest of my career. My current goal is to calculate the reflection coefficient for our potential barrier setup, which involves tying together everything that I’ve been working on this summer. It’s great to see how much I’ve learned – terms and equations that mystified me just a few weeks ago are no big deal now. I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m looking forward to continuing my work next week!

I also spent some time this week working on my final presentation, which is coming along well. It’s a good exercise because it helps me clarify my thoughts and think about ways to communicate scientific ideas to others. I feel like I have so much to say and it’s a challenge to pick and choose what’s really important, but it’s also a very rewarding process.

On Sunday, Toni invited all of the interns to her house to watch The Wizard of Oz, which was really special and fun. I’m slowly starting to realize that our time as SPS interns is coming to a close, and it’s nice to be able to spend a time with everyone while we still can. It looks like the rest of the internship is going to be very busy and very fun – stay tuned!

Week 7: NIST Tour Success
July 15-19, 2013

My major accomplishment for this week was successfully hosting a tour of NIST for everyone on Friday. I’ve been planning the tour for about a month now, and I’m pleased with the way it turned out. I owe a great deal of thanks to my mentor, John Suehle, for his help in orchestrating the tour and acting as our tour guide. Although I won’t be able to do justice to the tour simply by writing about it, I’ve included a brief synopsis of the highlights below.

On Friday morning, I got a few hours of work done before meeting everyone and escorting them to the cafeteria for lunch. After that, we met up with John and began our tour. Our first stop was a lab with three scanning electron microscopes, all of which were astounding in their complexity and capabilities. It’s amazing how advances in technology can have such a significant impact on science and vice versa. Next, we went to see a lab that was located in a building 10 meters underground! From there, we took a brief tour of the NanoFab facility, which has more than 60,000 square feet of lab space. Our final two tours took place in my building, where we learned about microelectronics and hybrid nanopores.

At work this week, I began to coordinate more closely with the scientist who will be continuing the project I’ve been working on after I finish my internship. I’m enjoying the chance to work with someone on a more regular basis and to have a sense of where the project will go after my time with it is over. I made some progress graphing my model in MATLAB so I could visualize it more easily, and I’m excited to continue with data analysis next week.

National Archives
The National Archives

I’m continuing to explore DC in my free time, and I am continually amazed by how much there is to do. One of my favorite places in the city is the National Gallery of Art, which has a lovely sculpture garden. There’s an incredible fountain in the middle where you can dip your feet in the water and avoid the scorching July temperatures that have begun to descend over the city. I’ve grown accustomed to living in a place that is so rich in history and culture, and I’m going to miss it when I go back to school in the fall. The combination of inspiring science at NIST during the day and the vibrant DC atmosphere in the evening is wonderful, and I’m so glad that my SPS internship has enabled me to have these experiences.

Week 6: NASA Trip!
July 8-12, 2013

The highlight of this week was our trip to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. We started our tour in the visitor center, where we saw a really neat display called “Science on a Sphere.” The idea behind the display was to simulate the appearance of a planet by projecting images onto a sphere, which was a highly effective way to convey complex information. We took imaginary tours of Jupiter, Mars, and the Sun, learned about Jupiter’s moons, and looked at the environmental impacts of global warming here on Earth. I think that one of the most important traits of a good scientist is to display data in a meaningful and interesting way, and “Science on a Sphere” made me think about how important data presentation is. From there, we went to a special town hall meeting with Charlie Bolden, the NASA administrator.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Afterwards, we met up with Nobel Laureate Dr. John Mather for a special tour that included a visit to the largest clean room on earth! We also saw the wide-field camera that was inside the Hubble Space Telescope for fifteen years. Of the objects that have been returned to Earth from space, the wide-field camera has been in space the longest. We also got to see a huge centrifuge that has a diameter of about 100 feet and a vacuum test chamber for satellites. As usual, it was great to spend time with Dr. Mather. His enthusiasm for encouraging young scientists is wonderful, and he always gives us good advice.

Before we left, we also got to see where Alec and Darren work and hear about their projects. They both are doing really interesting work, and it was especially fun for me to hear about research going on at NASA and compare it to the research I see at NIST.

At work, I wrapped up my model and prepared to transition to data analysis. I’m glad that I had the chance to make a model and experience more of the theoretical side of physics. At the same time, I think it will be fun to start thinking about physics from a more experimental perspective. I’m also in the final stages of planning my tour of NIST for the other interns, so stay posted for an update about that at the end of this week!

Week 5: Celebrating the Fourth of July in DC
July 1-5, 2013

Happy Fourth of July!  It was so special to be in DC this week with all of the holiday festivities! The atmosphere in Foggy Bottom changed dramatically with the sudden influx of tourists, and it was fun to be able to give directions to people looking for the metro and the national mall. I’m starting to learn my way around the city, and I feel that I’ve made the leap from clueless to competent.

This week at NIST, I worked some more on my MOSFET model and planned a tour of our facilities for the other SPS interns. I’m really excited to host them and show them the NIST museum and lab facilities. In terms of my model, I figured out how an electron wave can be expected to reflect from a linear potential barrier. Originally, I read that the amplitude of the wave function increases rather than decreases – but that is incongruous with the expectation from the general model.  It turns out that the increased amplitude is actually related to the fact that the speed of the particle decreases as it passes through the region of higher potential. As the speed decreases, the particle is more likely to be in a given location, and so the amplitude of the wave function increases. Cool!

I’ve also been talking to some of the scientists on my hall about my model, and they’ve all been very encouraging. It’s interesting to be around so many electrical engineers in addition to physicists, and I’m glad that the atmosphere is so supportive.

This was an especially memorable week for me. Being able to see the fireworks and experience the city on Independence Day was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it was fun to spend it with the other interns. I’m looking forward to going to Goddard with the other interns next week!

Week 4: Quantum Models and More
June 24-28, 2013

My fourth week as an SPS intern was quite enjoyable! I’m really enjoying my new accommodations at George Washington University and I’m adjusting well to my commute. It’s exciting to be in a metropolitan area with so many people and so much going on.

This week at NIST I worked more on my model about quantum effects in MOSFETs and got valuable guidance from some of the other members in my group. I’m constructing a hybrid model from two existing models, which involves solving differential equations and applying boundary conditions. I’ve been able to find expressions for all of the wave functions in my model, which is an exciting accomplishment. It’s fun to challenge myself with more theoretical work than I’m used to, and I’m excited to see how the rest of it comes together!

On Thursday night, I went to a reception with the other interns at the American Center for Physics in College Park. An especially memorable aspect of the evening was meeting Katharine Gebbie, the former director of the Physical Measurement Lab at NIST. Many of the other interns were excited to talk to her as well, and we had a great conversation. I really appreciate that SPS encourages all of the interns to network and talk to people in different fields; it’s a great experience and is really eye-opening.

On Friday night, all of the interns gathered for dinner at ACP and traveled downtown to see a political satire group called The Capitol Steps. I had a great time, and it was a wonderful way to unwind at the end of the week. I can’t believe how quickly the summer is flying by!

Week 3: From MATLAB to Modeling; from Home to DC
June 17-21, 2013

The big highlight of my third week as an SPS intern was moving into one of the dorms at GW with all of the other interns. It’s so neat to be in DC! The Lincoln Memorial is right down the street, and we’re close to the metro. I’ve really enjoyed adapting to the pace of city life, and I’m thrilled that I can experience DC with the other interns.

This week at NIST I worked some more with the MATLAB program I’d been using and gained some valuable tips about basic programming from one of the scientists in my group. Everyone has been so nice and supportive, and it’s helpful to have somewhere to turn when I need advice. I’m going to be looking for evidence of quantum effects in the data, and although it’s too early to say whether or not I’ve seen any for sure, there are some interesting artifacts.

In the middle of the week I moved on from MATLAB to mathematical models to get a better intuitive understanding of the experiment and its results. I had a basic understanding of how MOSFETs work from my background reading during the past few weeks, but I needed more clarity on some of the details. I tried two different models for wave interference to see if they would fit our experimental setup, but they weren’t sophisticated enough. Although it was frustrating to realize that I hadn’t found the correct model, the other members of my group were very supportive and they steered me in the right direction. My next step is to construct a new model from scratch, which is going to be a challenge but should provide me with a great learning opportunity. I’m inspired to see where this next phase of the project takes me!

Week 2: MOSFETs, Lasers, and MATLAB
June 10-14, 2013

My second week as an SPS intern was just as much fun as my first!  On Sunday we had an outreach event at Howard County Community College, where I helped out with a demonstration that played music using a laser.  I had never seen that particular demonstration before, and I had a great time learning about it and showing it to other people.  I also got to be on a panel about science and why I want to pursue physics as a career, which was a special honor and allowed me to meet lots of people who have succeeded in the sciences.

This week at work I learned more about MOSFETs and transistors and got to work with the data that I will be analyzing during my project.  If anyone is looking for a great book on the subject, I highly recommend Fundamentals of Modern VLSI Devices, which is an enlightening 700 pages and a surprisingly easy read.

I also got my first exposure to MATLAB and learned how to run an existing program to graph individual subsets of data.  Along the way I ran into a few stumbling blocks and had to troubleshoot, but luckily I persevered and I finished my week with access to data and a fully functioning MATLAB program.

This week I also found out that I would be living downtown with the other interns for the rest of the summer!  I’m so excited to live at GW and to spend time with everyone on a regular basis.  An extra special thanks to Toni for helping me out with this.  I’m looking forward to another great week at NIST learning about MOSFETs and whatever else comes my way!

Week 1: Nobel Laureates, Astronauts, and More: My First Week as an SPS Intern
June 3-7, 2013

What a great first week!  Our first event was a picnic on Sunday at the house of the Director of SPS, Toni Sauncy, which was incredible.  It was great to meet everyone in person and share our goals for our summer together in DC, and the food was amazing!  Our common interest in physics and SPS made it easy to find things to talk about, and everyone had such positive energy.  It was a great introduction to the program and left me really excited and inspired for the rest of the summer.  Special thanks to Toni for such a great event and for going out of her way to make sure we all had a good time!

On Monday, we met for an orientation event at the American Center for Physics in College Park.  I had never been to ACP before, and I loved seeing a building dedicated to physics (I also love that the address is “One Physics Ellipse” – it doesn’t get much better than that!).  We were treated to breakfast and were introduced to representatives from many of the organizations that are headquartered in ACP.  I loved learning about all of the physics resources available to the general public, especially this cool webpage about one of my personal heroes, Marie Curie:  If that weren’t neat enough, I was absolutely floored when I realized the interns would be having lunch with Dr. John Mather, a Nobel Laureate and another of my role models.  It was great to see him and to hear his insight about physics and physics education.  He’s incredibly intelligent and humble, and I was thrilled to be able to have lunch with him.

On Monday afternoon, Toni graciously escorted Caleb, Nicole, and me to NIST for the afternoon.  I got to meet my mentor, toured some great NIST lab facilities, and met some of the people I’d be working with.  It was my first time on the NIST campus and it was really exciting to see it after looking forward to seeing it for so long.

I spent the rest of the week at NIST, meeting the people I’ll be working with, touring more lab facilities, and starting my project.  On Tuesday night, I traveled into DC for a special Wellesley College event featuring Pamela Melroy, one of our most distinguished alumni and one of only two women to command the Space Shuttle.  She gave a phenomenal speech, and it was a special moment for me since I’ve been hoping to meet her for years.  Being near DC is the best!

On Thursday, I went to the Einstein Fellows Poster Session on Capitol Hill with the other SPS interns.  After the poster session, Toni arranged for and treated us to dinner at Union Station, which was a great way to relax after a long day and share our experiences with the other interns.  Thanks again, Toni!  It was a really inspiring, entertaining, and fun first week.  It’s going to be a great summer!



Alexandra Day

My name is Alexandra and I’m a rising junior at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. I love physics and I’m very excited to be working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology as an SPS intern this summer. I’ve always been curious about the natural world, and I feel that physics is one of the most powerful ways to explore the universe. Last summer I worked in the Photocathode Lab at the University of Maryland as part of an NSF REU program, and I presented my research at the Northeast Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics at Cornell University and at Wellesley’s Ruhlman Conference. I was recently accepted into the Madeline Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley and I am working on a research project related to science education. I’m interested in a broad range of academic topics and am always excited to learn about new fields. I’m looking forward to meeting the other SPS interns and working at NIST this summer!

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