Prior to my Ph.D. work under Dr. Rieker, I was fortunate to hold numerous research positions and internships where I developed many useful skills.
I earned my Master’s degree at CU in mechanical engineering in 2013 under the guidance of Dr. Y.C. Lee. I worked on developing the refrigerant compressor for a microfabricated cold stage. The compressor was a mix of micro and macro fabricated parts and showed a 4:1 compression ratio for a compressor not much larger than your thumb. I learned quite a bit about micro-fabrication, the unique design considerations that are prevalent in the MEMS realm, and started to touch the surface of the vast field of cryogenic science and engineering.
I did research with Dr. Fletcher Miller during my undergraduate studies in physics at San Diego State University in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. I happened upon Dr. Miller’s research in concentrating solar power plants while searching for professors researching renewable energy. I was in his group for two years and worked on a hydrocarbon cracking chamber to generate aggregated carbon particles from hydrocarbon fuel feedstocks. We used an oxygen-free heated furnace to separate the hydrocarbons and thus generate the carbon particles. They were designed to be used in the concentrating solar power tower to allow combustion inside the tower during cloud transients over the solar field or night time. My time under Dr. Miller was quite formative. I learned how to generate my own research objectives within a greater set of goals, how to present my work in a coherent manner, and added onto the laboratory skills that I was learning at General Atomics (see below) that would prove to be so useful later in my career.
Internships at General Atomics:
In addition to my high school physics teacher, the most influential time of my early career was spent at General Atomics. I had three internships in three different groups, all of which prepared me well for the required self-reliance of graduate school.
The first was my time at the DIII-D Fusion Facility in San Diego. I was an intern in the Electron Cyclotron Heating Group for 2.5 years beginning at the age of 19. During my time there I was taught how to work on a vast range of laboratory equipment and hence developed many vitally useful, lasting skills. Some of these are:
- Ultra-high vacuum work
- Designing a vapor deposition chamber
- Electrical schematic wiring
- Finite element analysis
- Mechanical design and fabrication
- Water pumping and handling
- Large scale scientific operation and goals
- High voltage control and safety
Besides the useful skills I learned, I got to work with an outstanding group of technicians, engineers, and scientists. I had never met people like this before and seeing how much they loved their jobs, how dynamic the work environment was, and how impressive all their equipment was (up to this point, I had never seen a multimillion dollar piece of scientific equipment), set me on a direct path for an advanced degree. My thought process was essentially, “I want to work at a place like this and I need a Ph.D. to do it” so off I went to graduate school. These folks are also the ones that got me started with mountain biking, so I owe them that as well.
My second internship at General Atomics was in the EM2 group researching mobile fission reactors. Unfortunately, due to funding problems, this position only lasted 6 months but I was tasked on creating forecasts of the number of required new fission power plants for various fuel recycling schemes based on coal plants being taking off line. Though the position was quite interesting, it involved only computer work and during this time I realized that I needed to direct my career in a lab-based direction.
My third position within GA was at the hohlraum manufacturing group. A hohlraum is a small capsule-like object machined to amazingly precise tolerances and designed to hold a pellet of deuterium and tritium prior to being fused at the National Ignition Facility. We made everything from the mandrels up to the final vapor, deposited shells. I learned a lot about the practical side of vapor deposition and was given freedom to design and build test apparatuses and learn how the group creates hohlraums from start to finish.