Looking Back, Reaching Forward

Ericmoore Jossou and Riley Hultquist reflect on the impact of mentorship from both sides

Riley Hultquist and Ericmoore Jossou

SULI intern Riley Hultquist, left, collaborated with staff scientist Ericmoore Jossou on gold nanocrystal studies using x-ray microscopy techniques.

Summer is here, and for many students that means taking on the exciting, and sometimes intimidating, experience of an internship in their field. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory hosts over 350 interns annually, providing undergrads, graduate students, and even high schoolers with a window into the STEM careers that interest them. While the duration of an internship may not be long, the benefits of the mentorship that drives that experience can ripple out long after. For Ericmoore Jossou, a staff scientist in the nuclear science and technology department at Brookhaven Lab, that meant not only achieving success and pursuing his own research goals as a former intern, but also becoming an effective mentor himself.

Jossou’s academic and research career spans two continents and includes a graduate research internship at the Federal Institute for Industrial Research, Oshodi in Nigeria and an entrepreneurial internship at the University of Saskatchewan, Innovation Enterprise in Canada. The hands-on research and tech transfer experience gave him the vantage point he needed to make some big decisions about his future.

“Shortly after my master’s degree, I had the option of working in a nonprofit public health care organization, but I decided to take on a research internship to improve my chances of getting into a competitive doctoral program,” recalled Jossou. “I found that I really enjoyed working on research projects that have a direct impact on society. Taking a chance and changing the direction of my career was a direct result of people that took a chance on me as an intern, people that patiently invested their time. I want to make that same investment and pay it forward. I’ve always believed that you don't have to be in grad school before taking on actual research. I invite all of my interns, even though they are undergrads, to do research in the field?something that is publishable, something that is impactful.”

That is exactly what Jossou did with Student Undergraduate Laboratory Intern (SULI) and student collaborator Riley Hultquist. Last semester, Hultquist worked with Jossou and other scientists to study gold nanocrystals. They conducted a type of x-ray microscopy experiment called Bragg coherent diffractive imaging (BCDI) to collect series of 2D diffraction patterns of the crystals. In this technique, beams of light bounce off a sample and into a detector. Those patterns of light are fed through a computer algorithm that reconstructs an image from the raw data. It’s almost like using a microscope without a lens, which can eliminate some of the optical aberrations that lenses may produce.

“I truly believe that the next generation of scientists can change the world with what they do.”

Ericmoore Jossou

“We get such a nice picture of what the crystals look like using BCDI,” explained Hultquist. “This technique allows us to study a very important property in the crystal called lattice strain. Lattice strain is related to the presence of defects that are formed in these crystals under extreme environments. Having a better understanding of that will help improve the durability of metals in industrial applications and to sustain harsh conditions in fusion reactors. Understanding these properties at the nanoscale will not only help us understand strain in existing materials, but we can also use what we know to produce new and better materials.”

This year, Hultquist graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics from Georgia Tech, and is ready to pursue a graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After hearing Hultquist enthusiastically break down his work at the Lab and seeing him map out his future, it’s hard to believe that there was a time where he was hesitant to get into research. This sort of uncertainty is not all that uncommon. Mentors like Jossou play an important role in showing students that fields sometimes portrayed as intimidatingly technical or dry and boring can actually be approachable and fulfilling to work in.

“I was at the point in my education when taking on an internship would be a big asset to my career trajectory,” said Hultquist, “but, to be honest, I wasn’t really sure if research was a path I was interested in. I had done a couple of research assistantships at my university with some professors and I enjoyed them. I just didn't have a clear idea of what kind of research I wanted to commit to or what kind of opportunities were available. It was hard starting research in school during the pandemic, and I was a little disillusioned at that time. SULI played a really important role in reigniting that fire in me, reinvigorating my passion for science, and pushing me to think seriously about my future.”

Hultquist’s story is one of many positive experiences that echo out into the greater science community for years to come. Brookhaven fosters a culture of mentorship, offering several opportunities for staff to share their expertise, give students a window into what certain STEM field are like, and help them navigate complex questions about the trajectory of their education and career. Staff at the Office of Educational Programs and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Office are eager to help Lab employees get involved.

“The first time I met Noel Blackburn, Brookhaven’s chief diversity officer, he asked me to be a mentor,” recalled Jossou. “I had just walked in! Before I stepped back into my office, he had already emailed me all of the links I needed to get started with the process. I believe in the SULI program. I would recommend that every scientist mentor an undergraduate. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone involved. I truly believe that the next generation of scientists can change the world with what they do.”

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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