INL interns celebrate accomplishments, adventures

June 11, 2020

By Paul Menser

Editor’s note: Photos of the winners present at the event are available on Flickr.

It’s not officially the “last day of camp,” but Idaho National Laboratory’s annual Intern Expo and Poster Session is where interns present the research they’ve been pursuing all summer, answer questions, and are hailed for their achievements and the promise they represent.

At this year’s event, held Aug. 10 at the Energy Innovation Laboratory, 92 interns shared the work they’d done in everything from nuclear engineering to public outreach to geophysics to data visualization. This fiscal year, INL has hosted 337 students from 81 universities, including 47 international interns from 14 countries.

“University Partnerships is a growing part of INL,” said Amy Lientz, the lab’s Partnerships, Engagement and Technology Deployment director. Leading up to summer 2017, nearly 1,900 students had applied for INL internships, she said.

Over 90 interns shared their summer projects at INL’s 2017 Intern Expo.

The research done by interns at INL has real-world impact and enhances the lab’s reputation throughout academia. The program also serves as a source of new talent for the lab, at a time when a lot of longtime researchers are headed into retirement.

For this year’s expo, there were 76 posters, four digital posters and two explanatory graphics available for observation and inquiry, with interns standing by to explain the research they had done.

“This would have been unheard of when I started here,” said Dr. David Nigg, a physicist who came to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (as it was then called) as an intern in the mid-1970s. Pursuing an advanced degree in engineering sciences from University of Kansas, Nigg was one of two interns in his division that year. “The lab did have a formal intern program even back then,” he said. “It just was not nearly as big or as visible as it is now.”

Nigg has mentored dozens of interns in his 40 years at INL. “It’s how we have developed a lot of good people,” he said. “We grow our own.”

Skyline High School interns Caroline Henry (back left) and Ryan Barna (back right) used a digital interface at the expo.

Miranda Wachs, who is entering her sophomore year at Weber State University, said she was surprised to have a screwdriver in her hand this summer, building a light-tight enclosure for a digital video camera that uses neutrons to see inside irradiated nuclear fuel. Although this was her third summer as an INL intern, “It’s a lot different when you’re building something,” she said.

“You want to give them a fruitful undertaking,” said her mentor, Dr. Aaron Craft from INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex. “You want someone to leave here with an experience they’re going to remember in a positive way.”

Zachary Fuller, from BYU-Idaho, found himself on two coasts as part of the research he was assigned by his mentors, Shawn Salisbury and John Smart of INL’s Energy Storage and Transportation Systems Department. Fuller went to the San Francisco Bay area for one week and Charlotte, North Carolina, for another to observe and compile data on the behavior of people visiting gas stations.

To plan for electric vehicle fast-charging stations, INL researchers need to know how long people are willing to spend charging their vehicles, how many are likely to be doing it at the same time, and what sort of differences exist between rural and urban locations.

Fuller observed that at rural stations people tended to spend 10 to 15 minutes, while they gassed up. At urban stations, people would be in and out quickly, sometimes only buying $5 or $10 in gas.

“He collected a ton of data otherwise not available to anyone,” Salisbury said about Fuller. “No one has ever done it before, and Zach made it happen in a few short months.”

Paige Brimley, a chemical engineering student at University of Utah, shares her research on enabling clean energy development.

In addition to all the opportunities for research and learning, INL interns form new friendships. They are encouraged to have adventures, and perhaps the greatest odyssey experienced by the Class of ‘17 was the trip Megan Isabelle (North Carolina State), Kavitha Chintam (University of Pittsburgh), Ben Dacus (North Carolina State), and Matt Herald (University of Tennessee Knoxville) took to the northwest coast in mid-July. After leaving Thursday after work, all went well on the whirlwind trip (Mount Rainier; Port Angeles, Washington; Victoria, British Columbia) until around noon Sunday in Pendleton, Oregon, when Chintham’s car broke down.

After the car was towed off to Hermiston on Monday for repairs, there were limited options. No place would let them rent a car to drive one-way to Idaho. Flying was out of the question, and at $200 a ticket, the bus didn’t look appealing. Then, one of the group had an idea: U-Haul, which was $100 a person for a vehicle that could be dropped off in Idaho Falls. The four loaded their backpacks and sleeping bags in the rear and drove four abreast in the cab. It was an awkward arrangement, but riding in back with the gear would have been unbearably hot. They arrived in Idaho Falls on Tuesday morning, July 25, around 3 a.m.

“It was a trip we will never forget,” Isabelle said. (Chintham later returned to Oregon to fetch the car, which required a new, not cheap, engine.)

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Dacus, Isabelle, Chintam and Herald (front to back) faced an unexpected surprise on their weekend adventure.

INL offered more than 30 enrichment activities throughout the summer, including welcome breakfasts with senior leaders, lab tours, a science abstract writing class, a wilderness safety workshop, self-reflection workshops, a résumé and interviewing skills workshop, and the intern expo, where interns practice presentation and communication skills.

Vault, an online service that provides rankings, rating and reviews on thousands of top employers and hundreds of internship programs, ranked INL in the top five on its 2017 list of Best Energy Internships. GoodCall, another online resource, ranked Idaho Falls 23rd on its list of 100 Best Cities for Summer Internships.

“INL interns come to the lab from all over the U.S. and the world. Their diverse fields of study and backgrounds are a reflection of the breadth of research at INL,” said Michelle Thiel Bingham, University Partnerships director. She said in addition to being able to apply what they learned in the classroom to a real-life work experience, the interns gained new knowledge and had the opportunity to experience the region during their time off. “Interns bring an invigorating energy and new perspectives to INL. They go back to their universities and are ambassadors for INL and southeast Idaho,” Thiel Bingham said.

At the Intern Expo on Aug. 10, the following special honors were given:

World Nuclear Energy Future

Winner: Ezekiel (Zeke) Villarreal. Degree pursued: Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Utah State University. INL mentor: Colby Jensen. Entry: “In-Pile Boiling Detector.”

1st runner up: Austin Fleming. Degree pursued: Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Utah State University. INL mentor: Colby Jensen. Entry: “In-Pile Pyrometer Development.”

Enabling Clean Energy Development

Winner: Jason Mitchell. Degree pursued: B.S. in biochemistry from Idaho State University. INL mentor: Donna Baek. Entry: “Non-Aqueous, Rare Earth Metal Electrodeposition.”

1st runner up: Kunal Pardikar. Degree pursued: Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Purdue University. INL mentor: Tyler Westover. Entry: “Hopper Flow Simulations.”

Securing and Modernizing Critical Infrastructure

Winner: Jack Edwards. Degree pursued: High School from Ririe High School. INL mentor: Ron Fisher. Entry: “Increasing Infrastructure Resilience.”

1st runner up: Christopher Poresky. Degree pursued: Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at University of California-Berkeley. INL mentor: Ron Boring. Entry: “Fault Warning for Turbine Control in a Digital Control Room.”

Enabling INL Business and Support Operations

Winner: Ammon Doney. Degree pursued: B.S. in psychology at Brigham Young University-Idaho. INL mentor: Toni Vandel. Entry: “Human Resources.”

1st runner up: Nathan Morrical. B.S. in computer science from Idaho State University. INL mentor: James Money. Entry: “Optimizing Volumes for Visualization.”

Best Digital/Graphics

Winner: Pierre-Clement Simon. Degree pursued: Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Pennsylvania State University. INL mentor: Larry Aagesen. Entry: “Grand Potential Model.”

1st runner up: Alexandra Spruill. Degree pursued: B.S. in computer information systems at Brigham Young University-Idaho. INL mentor: Keith Barney. Entry: “Data Optimization & Visualization.”

Best Technical Presentation

Winner: Brianna Fornes. Degree pursued: B.S. in environmental engineering from Arizona State University. INL mentor: Bradley Wahlen. Entry: “Algae Storage Optimization.”

1st runner up: Zachary Fuller. Degree pursued: B.S. in electrical engineering at Brigham Young University-Idaho. INL mentor: John Smart. Entry: “EV Charging Demand.”

Intern Mentor of the Year

Winner: Colby Jensen, research and development engineer in the Nuclear Science & Technology Directorate.

Jensen was selected for his ability to help interns understand the importance of the work they did during their internship and how their work tied to the overall INL mission. He encouraged interns to explore their own research ideas. Jensen’s interns found their experience “rewarding” and “motivational.”

1st runner up: Adrian Wagner, nuclear research facility engineer at INL’s Materials and Fuels Complex.

Wagner encouraged any and all questions from interns and helped prepare his intern for hands-on work in a lab. He “genuinely cares about the people he works with and displays a great amount of patience and understanding.”

Certificates of Achievement

  • INL Intern Explorer of the Year, awarded to Cassara Higgins, for exploring the Southeast Idaho region with gusto.
  • Achievement for attending the most intern enrichment activities awarded to Ezekiel Villarreal. Zeke attended and participated in enrichment activities and was always an active participant.
  • INL Intern who traveled the farthest for their internship, awarded to Marija Stevic, who attends Rheinisch-Westfalishce Technishce Hochshule Aachen Research University in Aachen, Germany.




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About Idaho National Laboratory

Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, celebrating 75 years of scientific innovations in 2024. The laboratory performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. 

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Posted June 11, 2020

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