Simon Hermann, Codie Lai, Phone Thant Myo, and Emma Redalen joined the Skyline nEXO group on June 12, 2023, to complete an 8-week-long internship program. They were joined by Emanuel Gonzalez and Ethan Kong, who participated in nEXO activities as part of their independent study course.

While each student primarily worked on an individual project, there was also plenty of room for collaboration, and this occurred readily as each student participant would eagerly pitch in to help a peer. The students also participated in workshops to gain technical skills such as 3D design and printing, Arduino programming, Eagle circuit design and Printing Circuit Board (PCB) milling, and Python programming. They also had meaningful conversations about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as they explored topics such as imposter syndrome and implicit bias and joined the nEXO DEI committee during their July meeting. Additionally, they remotely joined the nEXO Collaboration meeting, which Professor Kolo Wamba attended in person in Montreal, Canada, and met with collaborators at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. They built ePortfolios to record and reflect on their experiences.

In addition to offering technical workshops, Marco Wehrfritz was there to provide continued technical mentorship to the students at Skyline’s Fabrication Lab for the entire summer, as the student projects were quite involved and required more advanced support.

You may read below about the students’ experiences in their own words.

Simon: “I enjoyed and largely benefited from working as a student research assistant. Throughout these 8 weeks, I have been fortunate enough to work on several projects at Skyline College and SLAC, challenging and expanding my skill set. Going into the experience, I had minimal experience coding and was self-taught in using Fusion 360 (CAD Software). At the beginning of the program, workshops were held, teaching us interns various skills, including 3D printing, milling, laser cutting, soldering, coding, and much more. After the first 2-3 weeks of workshops, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to get heavily involved at SLAC and be directly mentored by a scientist there, Brian Lenardo. Under his mentorship, along with faculty at Skyline (Kolo Wamba, Emilie Hein, Marco Wehrfritz) I was able to work on two different projects primarily. For the first, I utilized CAD to create a mold, allowing us to glue together charge readout tiles very precisely, allowing us to temperature cycle them. Going into this task, I was skeptical about my ability to use CAD software, considering that I taught it to myself using YouTube. Going through the process, I learned much about the software from all the mentors who helped facilitate my learning. I created a few different prototypes that we 3D printed. After finding that it didn’t grant us the required precision, I learned and made the necessary changes to get my design machined at a shop. This process taught me how to make engineering drawings used in machine shops. For my other project, I performed resistance measurements on some mock tiles with an experimental magnesium fluoride layer to see if this layer caused any disruption to reading the charge. To do this, I learned from the mentors how to utilize Python code to read, analyze, and display data.

Overall, this program was incredibly enriching. Words can’t describe how beneficial this experience was for my educational/career journey. Personally speaking, I feel schools have difficulty bridging the curriculum taught to the actual work environment. This 8-week internship program did exactly that for me. It showed me how the stuff I learned in class is relevant to the career path I chose. Seeing this makes me much more excited and motivated to learn now that I know exactly how the curriculum is helping me. Furthermore, working at SLAC showed me a professional work environment in this field. It immersed me and forced me to adapt how I work to suit a professional environment, ultimately benefiting me. I am grateful for my time in this internship and am hopeful that I get another experience that is as good as this one. If interested, here is the link to my portfolio of my work (it is still continuing to develop):”

Codie: “My experience working as a student research assistant was incredibly insightful and positive overall. A big portion of the work I did for the project I was tasked with involved 3D design and printing. Before starting this internship, I lacked experience with 3D printing. This was where the internship was beneficial for me. I had to develop countless prototypes for my project, and as a result of said prototypes, many technical difficulties emerged due to the 3D printers I was using. It was often annoying and even frustrating. However, I overcame this and ultimately grew from those times. When Marco taught me how to troubleshoot the printers, which I never knew how to do, I also got firsthand experience in doing some basic circuitry construction with an Arduino Mega, a more powerful version of your standard Arduino. Being able to do this has been something that I have been wanting to do for a long time, and I finally got the chance to do it. Another notable portion of this was our conversations surrounding DEI. This was my first time hearing about this matter, and from what I understood, it is crucial and needs to be addressed. This barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say about how great this experience went. In a conversation that I had with Professor Wamba, I told him that this internship gave me a tiny glance at what I would doing in the future. I could imagine myself doing this type of work and more in the future and not only would I be more than happy to do it and be fulfilled. This was my first internship/research experience ever. I learned so much and grew from what I did wrong, and it has ultimately helped me grow not only as a student studying engineering but as a person. I am grateful for everything this internship has taught and shown me. I am especially grateful for the professors and fellow interns who were there along the way to guide and support me. If you want to learn more about the journey that I went through, here is a link to the ePortfolio that I created that documents my entire internship experience, project development, and the whole shebang.”

Phone: “I enjoyed working as a student research assistant as it allowed me to have an insightful glimpse into engineering and research processes. My project was to build a circuit that monitors the state of a valve. I was not very familiar with electronic components before this project. This project gave me a penetrative learning experience in electronics-related materials such as soldering, drawing circuit schematics, making a board design in EAGLE CAD, and milling the circuit using the SRM 20 machines at the Fablab. At first, the experience was annoying due to my lack of skill in that kind of stuff. However, I now have confidence due to close mentorship from Professors Kolo and Marco. Besides that, I also got to learn about 3D printing, laser cutting, Python programming, and Arduino. I also got an opportunity for a brief look into the matter of DEI. From those conversations, it is nice to know about the changing status quo in the US. The internship was a marvelous experience as I learned about the professional work environment.”

Emma: “Working with the nEXO project has been such an amazing experience. My personal project involved the system used at SLAC to test the purity of liquid xenon for the nEXO experiment. Specifically, I was trying to improve the function used to analyze the data collected by a device called the Xenon Purity Monitor, then put together a circuit that could be used to test that new function at Skyline. This involved coding in Python, a language I am relatively inexperienced in (most of my experience is in C++), and using libraries specialized for math and modeling, like Scipy and lmfit, which were entirely new. Learning how to utilize these libraries in the project was a fun and enlightening challenge. I also got experience with Github, and with modifying code that others had written, even when those people were no longer available to ask questions about their work directly. Once the software was ready, I put to work some of the skills I’d learned in the nEXO workshops so far by designing and printing a circuit board, soldering the component pieces together, and drilling holes in a metal box to mount the circuit board and components. I got some experience with an iterative design process, too, because once the test hardware was up and running, we went through some improvements to arrive at a second version.

Overall, I’ve learned a great deal from this internship. Whether they’re skills that will be directly used in a future career or simply things that I’m now aware of and can recall when they’re brought up, it’s been fantastic to expand my knowledge. I also feel better prepared for the professional space now that I’ve had this experience. I’m very happy to know that not only did I benefit from the experience personally, but I got a chance to be involved with some real, physical science with nEXO.”

Emanuel: “Being part of Skyline’s team of both research and programming gave me insight into an excellent foundation for working towards a goal. The nEXO activity I slightly worked on was done in a programming language called Python. In this project, I corrected a small portion of the graph that displays histograms of a combined variable representing the energy, standoff distance, and topology from simulated nEXO detector data. But my main focus was working with MESA to find educational uses for the oculus quest 2. Some back background is that the oculus quest 2 is a virtual reality headset; users can wear it to play games, learn, or watch content in a 3D digital world. My main objective was to find a way to use this device in an educational sense for stem classes. Looking for applications in the fields was challenging to find, but through enough research, I was able to find many applications for anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, and biology. Having the ability to navigate these apps allows me to visualize details that I wouldn’t get from a textbook or screen; I was able to see the muscle fibers of a body and molecules in 3D. Additionally, I can conduct a thermodynamic lab and create designs or objects within this virtual world. It was something that gave me a new experience. It’s something I hope that will continue into our education.

This experience honed my skills in both research and problem-solving which was a skill that needed improving. I definitely had a fun time this summer and only wished it lasted longer. I definitely enjoyed the time spent, I hope many students also benefited and will continue to in the future. I want to thank Emilie Hein, Denise Hum, and Kolo Wamba for their support during challenging times. Their guidance truly made a difference during this summer.”

Ethan: “Being given the opportunity to work with the nEXO project was an extremely educational experience and offered a chance to apply the skills I had developed in school. As a current high school student, this environment was completely different from those I had previously encountered at school. My goal was to revamp an old program used at SLAC to display and analyze information regarding the Xenon Purity Monitor which was used to test the purity of liquid xenon to be used in the nEXO experiment. The old code was in C++ and a new program for analysis had been developed in Python so the old program had to be rewritten in Python to accommodate the improved tool. Prior to this summer study course, I had one year of experience in coding Java and no experience in Python. Throughout this summer, not only have I learned to code in Python and create displays using the Tkinter library but gained many other skills such as developing and testing solutions to problems and approaching new problems and tasks methodically. Unlike the other student research assistants, I mostly worked on this project alone so I spend a lot of time interpreting what different parts of the program did and debugging errors I encountered. Through a lot of trial and error, I added most of the functionality to the new program that was present in the old program. I am grateful for this incredible opportunity to grow, learn, and gain experience. This was the first time I have been in a professional scientific environment and I look forward to the next time I can be involved in the scientific community.”

The program concluded with a presentation where students had an opportunity to share all the work they had accomplished. Family and friends were invited and were joined by Interim Dean of STEM Jing Folsom and Vice President of Instruction Vinicio López, as well as some additional members of the STEM division, to show support to the students and learn more about their summer experience. Dr Brian Lenardo from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory was also present as one of the student mentors.

Interested in joining the nEXO group at Skyline College for this upcoming year? Make sure to fill out the application by August 28, 2023

This work is supported by the DOE Office of Science (Office of Nuclear Physics).

Article written by Simon Hermann, Codie Lai, Phone Thant Myo, Emma Redalen, Emanuel Gonzalez, Ethan Kong, Kolo Wamba, Marco Wehrfritz, and Emilie Hein

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