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Kelby PetersonKelby Peterson
Utah State University
Internship: NIST Research

I am a physics major at Utah State University (USU). I have spent the past three years doing research with USUís Materials Physics Group on materials used in spacecraft design. After my time at USU I intend to go to graduate school, tentatively in solid state physics. I have been highly involved in the Society of Physics Students and Sigma Pi Sigma since I was a freshman.

I was born and raised in Utah and am excited to explore a new city, Washington, DC. I will miss the mountains, though. I love rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and just about everything to do with the mountains. I've always been excessively inquisitive, which is how I found my way into the sciences. I'm excited to spend my summer exploring a new city and a new field.

View Kelby's Final Presentation
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  • Week 1
  • Week 2
  • Week 3
  • Week 4
  • Week 5
  • Week 6
  • Week 7
  • Week 8
  • Week 9
  • Final Reflections
Week 1, May 26-June 1, 2014

Leaving the Desert; Entering the Humidity

My first week as an SPS Intern has been a whirlwind of new and exciting things as well as a blast of jet lag, culture shock, and some mild climate changes. DC has been a great experience all around; from the awesome food to the Memorial Day Parade I have had great experiences exploring the city. Moving from Utah to Washington DC has given me a glimpse of what humidity and a big city is truly like. Learning to navigate the metro, not to stand on the left side of the escalator, and to always carry an umbrella are just a couple of the many things I've learned outside the normal internship hours so far this week.

My first few days have been spent at the American Center for Physics meeting many of the national staff for some of the various societies located there. I've had a great time being thrown into knocking on doors and introducing myself to all of the staff members, listening to what each of the American Institute of Physics Directors do, eating lunch with Nobel Laureate John Mather, and so much more. It has been a blast getting tips on how to read journal articles from Physics Today editors, using diffraction glasses to do light spectroscopy with Toni Sauncy, and prepping demos for outreach events with the SPS SOCK Interns.

Mark, Ashley, Kelby, Kearns and Jake in front of the DC Memorial Day Parade.It's been amazing to become such quick friends with all the other interns; joking and laughing with people I met days ago. Weíve explored museums together, gone to the top of the Washington Monument, taken a selfie from the middle of the Memorial Day Parade, gotten hopelessly lost in the city, and stayed up late laughing and geeking out together. Meeting the interns from different parts of the country has been awesome. I love hearing about how each school runs their physics department and SPS chapter, as well as the non-physics backgrounds we each bring to the table. We are all so different yet really have become fast friends looking out for each other, teasing each other, and sharing the highlights of our new internship experiences.

This summer is already off to a really great start and I hope to keep up the pace. Iím so excited to be working at NIST, exploring a new field of research, and meeting so many more brilliant people.

Photo: Mark, Ashley, Kelby, Kearns and Jake in front of the DC Memorial Day Parade.


Week 2, June 2-8, 2014

National Institute of Subzero Temperatures

I tend to be a bit of an adrenaline junkie; rock climbing, mountain biking, sky diving, skiing, snowboard, scuba diving, long boarding, etc. I love it all. My first day at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was an adrenaline rush of a different nature. Starting the moment I got my visitorís pass I was caught up in the excitement and complexities of government research science. My brain was a chaotic mess of neurons firing: faces, names, room numbers, passwords, building numbers, safety training, lab procedures, not to mention trying to understand the complexities of the project and the 10+ papers I was given to read- all of the utmost importance of course! To put it lightly, it was an overload of new information. I wish I could say my brain has processed it all now, but thatís not what I signed up for. Iím in for a summer of overloading myself with all the information I can gather, attempting to soak up as much as I can muster, and Iím excited about it.

The rest of the week was fantastic as well. I had the chance to get into the lab, dust off some of my old pipetting skills from high school, put on a lab coat, and attempt to remember what I learned in freshman biology and chemistry. Itís been a week of diving right into the thick of things, prepping samples, using a scanning electron microscope, calculating dilutions, and learning lab procedures. Every day Iíve been working with a new person, learning new concepts, performing new procedures; I canít wait to see what next week brings.

Washington Post Hunt LogoSocializing with the other interns has been entertaining to say the least. We booked ourselves solid our first weekend here, and had a blast. Saturday morning was spent wandering one of the Smithsonian Art Museums and the afternoon was spent exploring the vast lands of Arlington National Cemetery. Sunday we got a couple teams together and competed with thousands of other people in the Washington Postís Annual DC Post Hunt. The Post Hunt is a scavenger-like word puzzle hunt across downtown DC. So we spent our afternoon running around DC, learning the city, getting lost, and thinking really hard about the really weird things that were going on. Our evening was spent at Toni Sauncy, the SPS National Directorís house for a delicious BBQ.

Photo: Washington Post Hunt Logo

Every day this week has been a whirlwind of exciting stories and hilarious predicaments as we all settle in to our summer internships, and I doubt that will stop any time soon.


Week 3, June 9-15, 2014

Science in the Dark

One of the expected aspects of research is long hours in the lab crossing your fingers hoping your experiment will work; then of course cursing your stupid mistakes when it doesn't. One aspect of research I didn't expect was to be doing all that in the dark. When your samples are photosensitive you must memorize where all the knobs and buttons are, and always remember where you set down your pen.

Washington Monument during the astronomy festivalThis week's research has been all about learning the machines, troubleshooting the errors, and when I do get it right trying to understand what the data is telling me. A couple broken practice samples and 10's of runs later and I'm starting get the hang of it, I think. Next week is exciting because after I spend my weekend reading papers about it I get learn a whole new technique and hopefully get one step closer to being able to build our device.

Last weekend was a blast! Friday night we went out to dinner and then an astronomy festival with the SPS Executive Committee. It was really fun to get to meet all the people who make the big decisions for all our little SPS chapters; it really puts in perspective just how big the national SPS organization really is. Saturday was a fun adventure with some of the other interns, exploring the Natural History Museum, getting free things at the Capital Pride Parade, and hanging out as a group. Sunday was the best of all though; SPS set us up to do demos at a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) festival where we got to help teach and get kids excited about physics and use some of the SOCK (Science Outreach Catalyst Kits) activities of years past.

Photo: Washington Monument during the Astronomy Festival

It is a wholly new environment to be learning so much, to have so many fun things to do, and to have so many nerdy people to talk to. I still havenít quite adjusted (though Iím not sure I truly ever will) but Iím enjoying the experience for sure.


Week 4, June 16-22, 2014

Research Utilization of Preschool Learning

Remember back in preschool when you had arts and crafts time? Remember how teachers always told you 'NO' when you stuck tape to random objects? This week all those ignored reprimands and my extra tape practice came in handy. Monday I learned the simple yet Nobel-prize winning process of material exfoliation, which I then proceeded to spend the better part of a week practicing. The idea is really straight forward, you stick your material to some tape, pull it off, then stick the tape with material on it on more tape, repeat; the idea being that each time you do this you pull off another layer of the material until you have a mono-layered sample. Mono-layered materials and profoundly useful and typically ridiculously difficult to obtain, yet this simple experiment done originally with Scotch tape manages to obtain them using processes most toddlers are reprimanded for. If a Nobel prize being given for playing with Scotch tape doesn't prevent one from stifling their kid's imagination I don't know what will.

My preschool practice wasn't all I did this week though. I was able to work with different methods of viewing the materials I had exfoliated. I talked quite a bit with the researchers here at NIST about what exactly I am working on and how that will contribute to the project as a whole. It has been very educational and insightful.

The weekend with the interns was a lot of fun. We explored more of DC. Adventured around the Smithsonian's sculpture gardens, rode on the National Mall's carousel, and just had a great time.


Week 5, June 23-29, 2014

I'm impressed with whoever picked the size of the SPS intern group. Though it may not have been intentional, 12 is a great number of students to throw together for a summer. We are just small enough that we can all know each other pretty personally and do things as a whole group easily. Yet we are also just large enough that we can split into mini groups based on interest. There always seems to be someone willing to do things with you. This weekend I took full advantage of that. A couple of us spent Saturday afternoon wandering the National Archives, exploring the nation's history through documents and other saved treasures. Then at my insistence we met up with more interns to go see the How to Train Your Dragon 2 movie (absolutely adorable movie by the way!). Sunday most of us adventured to Safeway's National BBQ Battle. It was a blast, so much free food and giveaways, no matter which booth I wanted to wander to there was always someone willing to tag along.

Ashley, Simon and I touring Texas at Safeway's National BBQ BattlePhoto: Ashley, Simon and I "Touring Texas" at Safeway's National BBQ Battle

Our week nights have been fun as well. This week 8 of us adventured to the Argonaut together to compete in their weekly Science Night. Science Night consists of 3 parts, a trivia competition, an 'experiment' portion, and a best team name competition. Our team; Let Us Atom, had a blast and miraculously managed to win all 3 competitions (only the second team to ever do that!).

This week wasn't all socializing, NIST was full of it's own excitement. I spent most of my week optimizing my exfoliation procedures to attempt to get mono-layered materials for our experiment. Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) measurements showed my mechanically exfoliated (fancy speak for the playing with tape technique I mentioned last week) samples weren't getting quite thin enough to be mono-layered. I started researching a method of liquid exfoliation and adapting the procedure for our material. Hopefully this method will prove more successful.

I was also lucky enough to be invited on a tour of NIST's nuclear reactor facilities. Now that was an impressive lab. This lab was literally one gigantic warehouse room stuffed full of random scientific equipment. Countless different experiments were going on all at once; you could barely tell when you walked into the next experiment since they were all crammed in there. It was impressive the things they were able to detect and come to understand from these neutrons. It was funny too because everyone always worries about radiation from these sorts of reactors, yet there I was touring the facility and my dosimeter had no measurable detection by the time I was done. It really is impressive how well contained and controlled these types of things are. Science impresses and surprises me every day.


Week 6, June 30-July 6, 2014

I know, I know, I'm cutting this week short; but don't you worry I'll get the 4th of July celebration in to next week's post.

This week my research has been a series of prepare, test, tweak, repeat, all in an effort to finally get my mono-layered sample. This week I have focused on attempting to exfoliate my material via liquid exfoliation rather than the mechanical (tape-based) exfoliation of last week. I started by researching what liquid exfoliation was and how it worked, then finding ways to apply it to our situation. For liquid exfoliation you suspend your sample in a solution and then sonicate (basically vibrate) the liquid to break apart the sample. Then you centrifuge (spin) the liquid so that the sample gathers near the bottom. This is suppose to help break apart the material and hopefully get a mono-layer suspended in there that can then be deposited on the sample.

The liquid exfoliation method seems really promising but brings with it its own set of challenges. My week has been spent trying to figure out how to deposit the material on the sample and eliminate the liquid without losing the material. It's been a process of trying different methods, learning new equipment, and imaging these samples as much as possible to find a way to optimize the circumstances and obtain the ideal sample. I've been able to image flakes with the atomic force microscope (AFM) smaller than many of us can even imagine, but sadly they are all still much larger than we can use.

3-D representation of AFM image of an exfoliated flakePhoto: 3-D representation of AFM image of an exfoliated flake

In all honesty this weekend was my lazy, rejuvenate, netflix weekend. I decided to take most of the weekend to myself to just vegetate, cuddle with my blankets, and prepare myself for the crazy, busy, excitement that will be the upcoming weekend with the 4th of July in DC. I did break free of my mental rejuvenation long enough to go grocery shopping, and spend a wonderful Saturday evening at a concert. I was lucky enough to be invited along with Nick and his parents to a bluegrass concert. I have just enough background in bluegrass to know I enjoy it, but the extent of it is an occasional song here and there.

So this evening was a whole new adventure for me. To start Nick and I were at least two or three standard deviations below the norm age group for this concert, which just added to the joy of people watching. Next this concert was structured in such a unique way, which was quite refreshing from the normal crowded, loud, bubbly concerts of mainstream music. We got there a couple hours early to get our number, this number is what order you get to go into the concert hall in, we then are invited into what was basically a giant waiting room, with a full service drink station. When it was an hour and a half before the show seating began. When they began calling numbers everyone gathered around the doors with excited grins, much like kids watching someone scoop ice cream for them. Once our number was called we could go in and find a table from which to watch the concert. They then had a full dinner menu to eat as a pre-show event. It was quite fascinating. The music itself was quite entertaining. The band was called Seldom Scene, and the show was a fun mix of upbeat music and entertaining, eclectic people on stage (and off). It was a great addition to my weekend and concert experiences.


Week 7, July 7-13, 2014

Diffracting Fireworks

As promised this week's post will start with the 4th of July celebrations. I was very lucky and my girlfriend came to visit me for the weekend. We met up with all the interns Friday morning and spent the day with a blanket laid out near the Washington Monument. We listened to the local music, played card games, snacked, and explored the area while waiting for the fireworks show. We had a great time handing out diffraction glasses to the children around us, explaining how they work and watching the fireworks through them. So much more amazing!

The rest of the weekend was spent touring Udvar Hazy, the Air and Space Museum extension, relaxing, watching Netflix, and recouping from the crazy adventures of the 4th. Udvar Hazy was awe-inspiring, we were able to see the retired Space Shuttle that resides there, countless planes, satellite replicas, and other cool-nerdy things. It was fantastic.

Orbiter Space Shuttle at Udvar HazyPhoto: Orbiter Space Shuttle at Udvar Hazy

My week at work was a transition week. I continued analysis of the exfoliated materials. We decided to re-try the mechanical exfoliation with longer durations for the exfoliation. After that there was a hold up in that process so I was placed on another project. I began analysis of anthrax proteins in lipid bilayers. It is an entirely new project, though still within the bio-pore field. It was really fascinating and a lot of fun. Less waiting, all the equipment was there and I knew exactly what to do. A lot of my time has been spent on understanding what the measurements are showing, as I take them, and learning how this new system and experiment works. I'm excited to see how this progresses.

This week ended with Ben Perez and I taking the other interns (minus Ashley) on a tour of NIST. We were able to start the day off with a tour of the NIST Center of Neutron Research. Which was amazing in and of itself. After that we were able to tour the precision microscopy labs, with state of the art Scanning Electron Microscopes (including the one I used earlier this summer), Atomic Force Microscopes (fancier than the one I use), and other imaging equipment. We then toured the Nanofabrication facility and ended our day touring the labs I work in every day.


Week 8, July 14-20, 2014

A Week of Water, Air and Space

This weekend was a blast. Saturday was a day spent by the Georgetown waterfront. For most of the day we rented kayaks and went around the Potomac River. We explored a little 'island' we found, and I got sufficiently sun-burnt (even though I put on sunscreen). That evening we went back down to Georgetown and the waterfront for dinner and a beautiful view of the river at night. Sunday was equally as fun. Ashley, Kearns, and I went to explore the Eastern Market of DC. It consisted of flea shops, arts booths, and food. It was fun to explore and find hidden gems for purchase.

At the College Park Aviation MuseumThis week at NIST was a bit of a whirlwind. I picked up work on the anthrax protein analysis as my primary goal. I spent a day attempting to juggle AFM analysis of the exfoliated sample and protein analysis-which was completely crazy. This project is still pretty new to me, but really fascinating and I'm having fun learning a new side of physics.

This week was a whirlwind of fun things. Fred Dylla, Executive Director of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and his wife Linda Dylla were kind enough to host a dinner for the SPS Interns, mentors, and other honored guests. It was fantastic food, a great tour, and good conversation at the College Park Aviation Museum. It was a lot of fun, and the museum had a lot of fantastic firsts there that I never would have expected.

It was really fun to tour NASA Goddard on Thursday during their Science Jamboree. It was fantastic to be there and tour the facilities. We got a great chance to not only see various labs and offices in NASA, but we got to talk to many of the scientists at the Jamboree who staffed tables highlighting their work on countless projects throughout the facilities. It was fascinating to see the behind the scenes things at NASA that I'd never really thought about before: the animation team, the news crew, the computing labs, etc. It was a great experience. I absolutely loved NASA.

Photo: At the College Park Aviation Museum.


Week 9, July 21-27, 2014

Crunch Time

We interns had a great Sunday together. Ashley and I invited everyone over for a huge brunch meal. There was tons of food, talking, and good times. It was a great start to a hectic week. So as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, my project with the exfoliation sort of stagnated and I started work on a new project in the same field. Well after some consideration that new project is what we decided I should present on. If you look back, that means I have about 2 weeks of time since I started work on it and when I'll be presenting it. So this week was a crazy mix of trying to really dive in and understand the bigger picture of what I'm working on, hurry and do enough experiments to have some solid conclusions, process all that data, and put together my presentation. All of this in time for our practice presentations Thursday night.

With a lot of help and craziness I was able to pull it together. My mentor Joey Robertson was fantastic at explaining everything to me, at least twice, giving me resources and guidance through the whole thing, and even letting me take over his computer for almost 2 days to process all this data. Finally on the metro home Thursday night I had a complete presentation; I spent the ride trying to come up with what I was actually going to say for each slide. Then when I got home Toni Sauncy was great enough to come all the way down to Foggy Bottom, let us present for her, and gave us invaluable feedback before the big presentations Friday.

Presentation day was a lot of fun. We all got dressed up, had a fun breakfast together at the American Center for Physics, then sat down for the morning of presentations. It was a really great, supportive environment to be presenting in. If there was any tension at the beginning it was lost when the power went out in the middle of the first presentation. They were able to get it back on quickly and get us back on track, but it brought about some much needed perspective to have that bit of a reality check. I was second. Of course, being technology inept I first couldn't figure out the microphone, then I struggled with the laser pointer, but once I got rolling talking I was pleasantly surprised at myself.

The questions, the part I was most afraid of, were more gentle then expected, which was appreciated. The hardest one was when someone asked what the hardest part of this project was, but I decided to be blunt and honest- my severe lack of a background in anything biology or chemistry related. Luckily that brought a few laughs, and quicker than I knew I was done. It was great to hear no one could tell I'd only worked on it for 2 weeks, or had no background in the subject matter. The rest of the presentations flew by. Everyone did a fabulous job and seemed relieved to be done.

The weekend after presentations was a blast. Ashley and I took a detour through the Capital and explored the ins and outs that we may have missed on our previous tour. We then headed up and walked around Old Town Alexandria, explored art studios in the old Torpedo Factory, had a magnificent tour through the old Gadsby Tavern- complete with 10 year old experts on the culture and colonial dance lessons with folks in costume. Sunday Stephen, Ashley, and I got up extra early and headed to the National Zoo to be there for the animals' breakfast. It was fun to explore before the day got too hot and the hordes of tourists came in. Then all the interns gathered together to go out to brunch to celebrate the completion of presentations. We ended our weekend watching the original Exorcist in preparation for touring the filming locations in Georgetown this upcoming week.

I'm excited for this next week of wrapping up my project, hopefully finding a good resting point for it, packing up my things, and then heading home. This internship has been a wonderful experience, but I am more than ready to get out of this humidity, and jump into my senior year of physics courses back at Utah State.


Final Reflections, August, 2014

Final Reflections

Kelby mountain bikingBack home now after my crazy, wonderful summer. I came home and jumped right back into things, moved back to school, got my apartment settled, caught up on my missed rock climbing and mountain biking this summer, and have started back in on my research projects at home.

My last week at NIST was amazing. My mentor, Joey, was out most of the week, so it really was just me powering through to collect as much data as I could before I took off for the summer. Of course, as research does, nothing worked right the first time, but I was able to get a small spread of data collection of the anthrax protein, that will hopefully be helpful in furthering the group's research project.

Ashley was great and organized a meeting for us interns to chat with fellows and physicists on Capital Hill, to give us some insight about experiences outside of the norm for a physicist. I made some great connections and got a new perspective and set of advice to move forward with in my own life.

Toni Sauncy's goodbye partyWe wrapped up our week back at the American Center for Physics to give our input on the internship and say our final goodbyes to all those at AIP, APS, SPS, etc. who really shaped our summers. Most of us interns went back to our dorms and packed up. It was weird to think we had all just met a few weeks previous and we were all going to go our separate ways again.

It was a marvelous summer and supremely insightful. I learned so many things and got such varied perspectives that I truly would not have obtained otherwise. It was a bittersweet ending, as most are.

Photo 1: Catching up on my mountain biking back home.

Photo 2: Bittersweet farewells all around- Toni Sauncy's goodbye party.



Identifying Biomolecules in Solution

NISTThe Semiconductor & Dimensional Metrology Division at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, NIST, provides leadership in conducting research in the areas of dimensional, nanometer-scale, surface, and acoustic pressure metrology; accelerometry; silicon Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) technology; MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS); power electronics; nanoelectronics; and flexible/printed electronics.

A new sensor is being developed at NIST that will uniquely identify individual biomolecules in complex solutions. The sensor is based on a solid-state nanopore with molecular-scale features and an integrated transistor using a 2-dimensional semiconductor. This device will take advantage of the fact that every molecule has a unique electrostatic profile, arising from the unique arrangement of functional groups, ligands, and heteroatom within the molecular structure.

Kelby and fellow SPS intern Benjamin are assisting the division with the nanofabrication steps, electrical testing, and fluidic testing using targeted molecules and numerically modeling the device.

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