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Internships help define career goals

Paul Humrickhouse

Paul Humrickhouse (37K JPG)

Fourth-year undergraduate student Paul Humrickhouse spent his summer studying dust.

It sounds about as engaging as watching grass grow, but for Humrickhouse, a 10-week internship — studying dust — at Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory gave him hands-on experience with an aspect of fusion safety. "We were working specifically on designing and building a toroidal vacuum chamber for the purpose of examining how dust mobilizes," he says. "We ran a couple of tests at the end where we were actually putting dust in the chamber and then venting and trying to characterize how it moves."

If there's an accident, dust becomes a radiation issue, he says. "In tokamak-type plasma machines you have plasmas interacting with surfaces and vaporizing some amount of material by various methods, which can become activated," he explains. "So if you have an accident where you lose the vacuum and you've got a hole in the chamber, which is exactly what we're doing with this device, then you're maybe going to have releases of this material through the vent."

Humrickhouse began working on the project last summer — in part, because he wanted exposure to fields that might help him decide on a career choice. "I got a general picture of what's going on in the fusion community and a lot of knowledge about this specific safety issue," he says. "So I got a feel for what's going on there, and what gets done, in terms of research, at a national lab. Also, this was the first engineering job that I've really had, and that was one of the most useful things for me too," he adds. "At school, you go to classes and you do a lot of solving equations and a lot of theoretical stuff, and so (at Idaho) you really get to be familiar with what kind of practical issues you deal with on a day-to-day basis."

Luke Olson

Luke Olson (22K JPG)

Similarly, Luke Olson also used his Idaho internship modeling reactor conditions to define his career goals — which include improving humanity via clean, non-polluting nuclear energy and the much loftier aim of becoming wealthy. For now, he is a first-year master's student, working with Professor Mike Corradini on modeling the Kewaunee Nuclear Power Plant's auxiliary reactor systems.

At Idaho, Olson expanded a simplified accident model involving an air-ingress event into a pebble-bed modular reactor. "I used a computer program called MELCOR to do this," he says. "I also modeled the effects of a reactor-cavity cooling system on the core temperatures."

Daily, he reported for work at 7 a.m. and checked the code, some versions of which took from 12 hours to several weeks to run. Based on the results of his examination, he conducted troubleshooting or, if it ran well, researched nuclear graphites and their properties on the Internet.

Both students took invaluable experiences away from their internships. But for Humrickhouse, who will begin his master's studies next year, his 10 weeks at Idaho just wasn't enough time. "I wanted to get more done," he says.


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Date last modified: Thursday, 07-Nov-2002 16:09:45 CST
Date created: 07-Nov-2002