Summing Up a Summer of Fun and Science for Students at Brookhaven Lab

Gathered in a crowded Berkner Auditorium, more than 100 young scientists shared laughs and memories at the concluding ceremony to their 10 weeks of summer research at Brookhaven National Laboratory. 

Scenes from the final days of the Lab’s 2013 summer student program

Lab Director Doon Gibbs began the closing ceremony by congratulating the students—including high schoolers, undergraduates, and recent college graduates—on their internships at Brookhaven this summer. Having come in contact with many of them during their stay through both the student-mentor dinner and from strolling around the lab, Gibbs said that Brookhaven benefitted greatly from the summer students’ presence. 

“When you’re here it raises the energy level at the lab,” he said. “The questions you ask, the ideas you have, change the game around here.”

Throughout his speech, Gibbs emphasized the important step these students made by choosing to spend their summer at Brookhaven, and how their work here is at the heart of what the lab does.

“This summer session touches on what science and Brookhaven are about: passion. You do science because it is so exciting, and you’re never really sure you know what will happen next. With science, there are surprises at every turn,” he said. “It’s what we like to call the passion for discovery.”

Gibbs advised the students to keep in touch with their mentors, new friends, and the Lab as they pursue careers in science. He then invited Department of Energy Brookhaven Site Office Manager Frank Crescenzo to offer his remarks.

“The goal of this summer program is to motivate students to pursue careers that contribute to the discovery of science,” Crescenzo said. “And I can tell from the work that you’ve produced that this program works for you and works for the mentors. You guys are absolute proof that this is an excellent program.” He thanked the students for investing their summer at the Lab and he wished them well in their future science careers.

Following Crescenzo’s remarks, keynote speaker Dr. Aristides Patrinos, deputy director for Research at New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP), spoke to the students about the changing face of New York City’s tech and science industries. Patrinos, who himself spent eight years working at Brookhaven in the 1980s, emphasized the importance of big data to the future generation of scientists. This emphasis fits right in with CUSP’s goal of promoting science in urban areas. From mapping out taxi pick-ups and drop off routes, to assessing damage and relief efforts after Hurricane Sandy, big data has already heavily impacted the state of science and will continue to influence the field in the years to come. He spoke of how CUSP plans to collaborate with scientists to use big data to revolutionize science in the city.

“The vision for CUSP is to be a unique public and private research center that uses New York City as its laboratory and classroom to help cities across the world become more productive,” he said. He ended his speech by inviting the young scientists to join in the voyage toward incorporating big data into everyday science.

Preceding the ending ceremony’s speeches was a two-day poster session in which students showcased their summer’s work. During their 10 weeks at the Lab, students were stationed at different departments across the Lab conducting various types of scientific pursuit. Some were tasked with finding ways of improving the most massive of Brookhaven’s machines such as the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) “atom smasher” and the Muon g-2 super electromagnet as it finds a new research home at Fermilab. Others operated on the nanoscale, observing hydrophobicity in water droplets or tiny particles in plastic solar cells. A few dozen students even ventured off site to participate in the Subway-Surface Air Flow Exchange study, where they joined some 100 interns from the New York City area in analyzing air flow in the city’s subways and streets. The poster session reflected the diverse fields of study that students from across the country participated in during their stay at the Lab. 

Some students’ work was highlighted in a video created by Lab videographer Alex Reben, which was shown during the closing ceremony. Danielle Mallon, a recent graduate from the State University of New York at Albany, spent this summer analyzing aerosol and radiation measurements from machines on a ship sailing the Pacific Ocean. She said that her work aims to improve existing climate models and help them produce a more accurate picture of what’s going on in the atmosphere.  Andrew Sung from Stony Brook University studied the effects of a plant hormone called auxin on plant growth. He examined how auxin influenced how big the plants grew as well as how fast they grew. Gregory Jones from Delaware State University worked in the Center for Functional Nanomaterials characterizing nanoparticles and mixing them together to form a film for solar cells. He said that his project might help create solar cells that can efficiently convert energy from the sun into usable energy. 

Each student partnered with a seasoned scientist who acted as his or her mentor for the 10 weeks. Mentors guided the students through the summer’s challenges, while also learning from their new students along the way. As Allen Orville, a mentor in the Biosciences Department,  remarked: “When you help somebody blossom and see them develop—get their own PhDs or start their own laboratories—that’s a benefit that you get back that you hadn’t anticipated,” said Orville. “To be a mentor and see those people flourish and thrive under sometimes difficult circumstances is something that makes being a mentor worthwhile.”

The video closed with student researcher Marie Blatnik from Cleveland State University, who worked on upgrading the s-PHENIX detector and remarked: “We build the world’s biggest detectors, the world’s most awesome machines, to try to figure out things about the smallest parts of the universe — isn’t that wild?”

Melvyn Morris, Special Projects manager for the Office of Educational Programs, offered the ceremony’s closing remarks thanking the students and Brookhaven staff for all of their hard work and passion this summer.

“I am pleased that we have the opportunity to bring so many bright, young, and talented students to Brookhaven for the summer,” said Morris. “This is a unique educational experience for the students. The opportunity to intern with world-class scientists in a professional setting such as this can be life changing.”

Elizabeth Zipf, an intern from Tulane University who was working on biofuels in  the Life Sciences Department, said that being a part of the summer research program at Brookhaven not only gave her the opportunity to participate in world-leading research, but to also to make new connections in the science community. She also enjoyed the program’s final moment.

“I thought the closing ceremony, especially the video, was the perfect summation of the summer,” she said. “From the research and innovation, to the friendships that we’ve made, Brookhaven has provided us with a great summer experience.”

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