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Summer 2010 Internship Opportunities

The application deadline for the established Energy Grand Challenge internship opportunities for summer of 2010 has passed.  Applications submitted prior to the Monday, January 25, 2010 deadline will be given priority in the initial review process.  Late applications will be processed until positions are filled, unless otherwise noted on the internship descriptions below.


[POSITION OPEN] Hybrid Energy Storage Strategies for Alternative Energy
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Craig Arnold, MAE
Project Summary: The drive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels has spurred a rapid growth and increased interest in developing alternative sources of energy such as wind, tidal or solar power.  One of the least recognized and true grand challenges facing alternative energy is the development of reliable, extended lifetime energy storage systems to complement these technologies.  This project is for a student to help develop the design, simulation, and working model for a hybrid system capable of providing energy storage for alternative energy such as solar and wind power.  In particular, the student intern will focus on developing solutions for short time scale energy storage needs using a combination of batteries and capacitors.  The research will involve experimentally measuring the characteristics of different battery systems and developing a stochastic model based on these results to provide optimal performance in a sample wind or solar application.  The ultimate goal would be to build this model system and demonstrate its function under real-world testing. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] New Alternative Energy Design Course: Developing Hands-On Learning Modules for Renewable Energy
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Craig Arnold, MAE
Project Summary: Alternative energy is something that affects all people and it is important to educate as many as possible on the challenges and opportunities that it provides.  For this research project, we are developing a new course on Alternative Energy Design, which will be taught at the introductory undergraduate level next fall.  The student intern will work with the professor and a post-doctoral scholar in developing hands-on learning modules for the course.  The student will be responsible for testing out the experiments and writing up a description of the modules.  In addition, the student will help with purchasing supplies and organizing the modules. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Hydrogen Purification by Electrochemical Pumping: Development of Optimal Configurations of a PEM Electrochemical Pump
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Jay Benziger, CHE
Project Summary: The principal objective of this project is to demonstrate the utility of a PEcHP for recovery of high purity hydrogen from H2:CO2 reformate mixtures.  The secondary objectives are: (i) to identify the most effective approach to deal with impurities in the reformate stream and (ii) to identify optimal process parameters (e.g. catalyst, membrane, etc) appropriate for different reformate streams. Students will prepare catalyst-coated membranes to test different membrane/electrode assemblies in a PEM electrochemical pump for selective pumping of hydrogen from an H2:CO2 mixture.  Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Combustion Energetics of Biofuels from Quantum Chemistry
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Emily Carter, MAE
Project Summary: Plant-derived fuels, e.g. in biodiesel, are comprised of oxygenated hydrocarbons (methyl esters) for which the thermochemistry, oxidation kinetics, and fluid dynamics are mostly uncharacterized.  This project will involve carrying out molecular simulations (classical and quantum mechanical) to characterize structures of biofuel reaction intermediates, as part of a larger project to determine energetics, rates, and mechanisms for how biofuels burn. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Research into Fusion Science, Technology and Policy
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Sam Cohen, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL)
Project Summary: Innovative designs for magnetic-confinement fusion reactors show a faster path to practical clean fusion energy than the conventional tokamak mainline approach.  Under the guidance of faculty from three departments, past interns have performed experimental and theoretical research into the novel FRC (Field Reversed Configuration) device, researched the history of the FRC confinement concept, and investigated the related political issues, primarily in the Middle East.  Interns can participate in the design, construction and testing of the next-generation FRC device or the operation and diagnosis of the present FRC device.  Interns may also opt for an examination of the impact of reactor design on social and political issues. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Spatial “Downscaling” of Global Climate Simulations for Societal-Impacts Research and Decision Support
Sponsor: Philip Duffy, Climate Central, Palo Alto, CA
Project Summary: Global climate models are the basic tools used to provide information about future climate change; their results, however, lack the spatial detail needed to provide information about regional-scale climate change and its societal impacts. A major effort is under way to use "spatial downscaling" to produce more detailed versions of climate projections now being performed by modeling groups around the world. We seek an intern to assist in the effort of producing and archiving downscaled versions of global climate projections.Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Science Journalism with Climate Central: Debunking Fictions About Global Climate Change
Sponsor: Philip Duffy and Michael Lemonick, Climate Central, Palo Alto, CA
Project Summary: Recent polling results suggest that public opinion about climate change has been influenced by common misconceptions about climate change. These include the idea that global warming has stopped, that the sun has been responsible for recent warming, that "CO2 is Green," and so on. Climate Central ( is undertaking a media campaign to refute these misconceptions about climate change. Our approach will be scientifically rigorous and non-advocative; we will focus on addressing factual and scientific misinformation, rather than, for example, the motivations of individuals and groups who propagate it.  The student will learn to use multiple media including print and video. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Summer Research Internship in MIRTHE: Development of Highly Power Efficient Quantum Cascade Lasers for Use in Chemical Trace-Gas Sensors
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Claire Gmachl, ELE
Project Summary: Chemical trace-gas sensors for environmental applications are key elements in improving environmental health through methods such as monitored reduction of fossil fuel burning; highly sensitive sensors, however, are still bulky and not cost-effective and don't lend themselves to wide-spread deployment.  Quantum Cascade laser-based sensors have the potential to provide high-end sensing at a consumer-electronics technology base.  Think: air-quality testing cell-phone-style!  To make this vision a reality, Quantum Cascade lasers, novel semiconductor lasers, need to be made more power efficient, by improved quantum, optical, and thermal design.  The proposed research projects concern precisely these aspects of Quantum Cascade lasers. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Socio-Economic Aspects of Fusion Energy
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Rob Goldston, ASTRO
Project Summary: Fusion energy is entering the stage where plans are being developed for Pilot Plants that put out net electrical energy. This study will examine the rate at which fusion energy could realistically penetrate the world electricity market and the role fusion could play in ameliorating climate change. Student will examine historical rates of penetration fission in the world and local energy markets, and will examine potential benefits of various sources of electrical energy with a specific focus on fusion. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] PEI Energy Systems Analysis Group: Case Study to Produce Low Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Vehicle Fuels from Coal and Biomass in the Western U.S.
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Eric Larson, PEI
Project Summary: This project will support work on technologies for co-producing transportation fuels and electricity from a combined coal and biomass feed, with capture and underground storage of byproduct CO2.  The extension of the work will be a case study analysis for such a system located at a site in either Wyoming or North Dakota, both of which are rich in coal and have some biomass resources. The internship will focus on a specific aspect of the study, e.g., simulating the performance of a coal/biomass conversion facility (using Aspen+ software), analyzing water requirements and water sources for the facility, identifying candidate underground CO2 storage sites, analyzing the means and costs for bringing biomass feedstocks to the conversion facility, or other aspects. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Research on Organic Solar Cells for Renewable Energy Applications: Elucidating Processing-Structure-Function Relationships in Organic Solar Cells
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo, CE
Project Summary: Organic solar cells (OSCs) have the potential to provide low-cost, renewable energy to help meet the world's growing energy needs. Advantages of OSCs include the ability to be fabricated at or near room temperature and deposited on flexible plastics. Our group's focus is the study of how the morphology in the active layers of OSCs impact device performance. Specifically, we have found that the presence of solvent vapors during spin coating of the active layers to significantly enhance the efficiency of the resulting OSCs. This technique can be applied to a variety of materials used in the active layers of OSCs, including polymer/polymer blends and polymer/small-molecule blends. We will study the structural changes in the active layers that occur during the spin coating process in order to elucidate how this processing technique gives rise to improved OSC performance. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Effect of Ocean Acidification on Carbonic Anhydrase Activity in Phytoplankton
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Francois Morel, GEO
Project Summary: The increase of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) input to the atmosphere has caused the increase of dissolved CO2 in the ocean, which is affecting the physiology of photosynthetic unicellular organisms, phytoplankton, in surface oceans. The most direct effect is the down regulation of the carbon concentrating mechanism (CCM) in cells, which is indicated as the decrease of the activity of the key enzyme, carbonic anhydrase. Students in our lab will conduct experiments to investigate the effect of changing CO2 on the growth, CA activity and CA gene expression in several ecologically important phytoplankton species. Their results will help us to understand how different phytoplankton taxa respond to ocean acidification. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Effect of Elevated CO2 on Carbon and Nitrogen Fixation in the Marine Cyanobacterium Trichodesmium
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Francois Morel, GEO
Project Summary: Trichodesmium, a diazotrophic cyanobacterium, plays an important role in marine ecosystems by providing the biological source of new nitrogen in large areas of the oligotrophic ocean that fuels primary production. As in Trichodesmium both diazotrophic nitrogen fixation and photosynthetic carbon fixation are energy demanding, an increase in CO2 may allow reallocation of energy among them and other cellular processes with which they compete for energy and cellular reducing power. Laboratory experiments will be conducted to examine the influence of elevated CO2 on the growth as well as carbon and nitrogen fixation in Trichodesmium. The key carbon and nitrogen fixation enzymes (i.e., RubisCO and nitrogenase, respectively) will be quantified in the cyanobacterium cultured at different CO2 levels. In addition, the rate of nitrogen fixation will be measured. The results from this study will help us understand how ocean acidification may affect the nitrogen and carbon cycles in the oligotrophic ocean. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Ocean Acidification: Carbon Concentrating Mechanism and Photosynthesis
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Francois Morel, GEO
Project Summary: Rising CO2 concentrations in the ocean are expected to alter photosynthesis and carbon uptake by the unicellular algae, phytoplankton, which dominate oceanic primary productivity. Students will conduct experiments to determine the effects of CO2 on the carbon uptake system of several species of marine phytoplankton using physiological and molecular approaches. We hope to compare and contrast the effects of rising CO2 on species representing groups abundant in the ocean to determine how phytoplankton communities may change in the future. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Impacts of Climate Change on Agriculture and Biodiversity in South Africa
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Michael Oppenheimer (GEO & WWS) and David Wilcove (EEB & WWS)
Project Summary: This project aims to investigate the potential impacts to biodiversity that might result from the human response to climate change. Such “second order” effects may have far greater impact on species and ecosystems than the direct effects of climatic change, but remain largely uninvestigated to date. Our research addresses this by examining the interaction between agriculture, climate change, and biodiversity. We focus on South Africa, which is an ideal test case because it is highly vulnerable to climate change, and has a large, diverse agricultural sector and globally important regions of high biodiversity.  Our approach uses a combination of process‐based and bioclimatic envelope models to identify areas where the productivity/suitability of major South African crops will be most impacted by climate change. We will then delineate where such areas overlap with priority conservation sites, and use this information as the basis for our Phase II research, which will focus on likely human adaptations and associated biodiversity impacts in these regions.  Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Dynamic Load Balancing Across Data Centers
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Jennifer Rexford, CS
Project Summary: Most users access the Internet through online services that run on servers in multiple data centers spread throughout the world.  The availability and cost of energy varies across these locations, and across time.  This project investigates techniques for dynamically shifting client requests from one data center to another in response to changing energy demands and user load, without sacrificing user-perceived performance. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Green Backbone Networks
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Jennifer Rexford, CS
Project Summary: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have large backbone networks consisting of routers and links that consume significant energy. Yet, these networks are typically over-provisioned to tolerate fluctuations in traffic demands and unexpected equipment failures. This project explores techniques for selectively "powering down" links (or portions of links) while still handling the expected traffic demands. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Rainwater Collection and Analysis in Bermuda: Sources and Composition of Nitrogen in Deposition to the North Atlantic
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Danny Sigman, GEO
Project Summary: This project investigates the sources and composition of all nitrogen (N) species (NO3-, NH4+, organic N) in both wet and dry deposition to the North Atlantic (i.e., rainwater and aerosols). The seasonal and/or trajectory related variations in the chemical characteristics of the N in deposition at Bermuda will be explored using a combination of stable isotopes and advanced mass spectrometry. The significance of N deposition in the North Atlantic is dependent on the source of the N, i.e., oceanic vs. terrestrial. This project will lead to a better understanding of how anthropogenic changes in the coupled land-ocean-atmosphere N cycle may influence the biogeochemistry of the surface ocean and its associated climate feedbacks. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Fundamental Study of the Stable Atmospheric Boundary Layer: Turbulence Exchange Processes over Polar Ice Caps
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Alexander Smits, MAE
Project Summary: Turbulent transport of heat, mass and momentum in the atmospheric boundary layer provides a crucial input to global climate models. Here, we study turbulence experimentally in a stably stratified boundary layer in the laboratory to learn more about the effect of turbulence on the shrinking polar ice caps. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Physics of Vertical Photovoltaic Solar Cells, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Sigurd Wagner, EE and Dr. Bob Street, PARC, CA
Project Summary: Vertically structured solar cells are a promising new design for high efficiency and low cost cells. Vertical cells are made from different materials, for example, organic semiconductors or silicon nanowires.  The project will involve experimental measurements to investigate the physics of transport and recombination.  The aim is a better understanding of the potential of these devices for PV applications and to find ways to improve their performance. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Measurement and Optimization of Film Silicon Solar Cells (NREL)
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Sigurd Wagner, EE and Dr. Kristin Alberi, NREL, Goldon, CO
Project Summary: The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) is developing a new generation of film silicon solar cells on inexpensive substrates.  These devices are fabricated by hot wire chemical vapor deposition of a thin epitaxial absorber (2-20 microns) on a seed template.  However, processing condition limitations produce films with higher defect densities than wafer Si. The student will participate in the characterization of these devices in order to understand how fabrication conditions and material quality affect their performance.  Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Evaluation of the Electrical Characteristics of Thin-Film Solar Cells at United Solar Ovonic
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Sigurd Wagner, EE and Dr. Jeff Yang, United Solar Ovonic, Troy, MI
Project Summary: The intern will be introduced to solar cell research in an industrial setting, performing measurements and other activities to support the project of a staff scientist. The student will understand how solar light flux translates to output current, and will gain a sense of the industrial approach to solar energy conversion. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Mesocosm Experiments in Marine Sediments: Loss of Fixed Nitrogen
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Bess Ward, GEO
Project Summary:  The supply of nutrients, such as nitrogen and organic carbon, are important factors in determining the fate of nitrogen entering the marine environment.  The Bess lab is conducting mesocosm experiments to determine the effect of these factors in determining the pathway of N loss in marine sediments.  One of the potential pathways produces nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, while the other does not.  Thus it is important to understand the factors controlling the relative contribution of each process. The student intern will participate in mesocosm experiments, measure nutrient concentrations in seawater samples and perform quantitative PCR to measure the abundance of different kinds of microbes. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Phytoplankton Nitrogen Dynamics in the Sargasso Sea: Stable Isotope Signatures of Phytoplankton as Indicators of Nutrient Source
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Bess Ward, GEO
Project Summary: The availability of the essential nutrient, nitrogen, severely limits algal growth in the central Atlantic Ocean.  We are investigating the use of N by different algal groups, using flow cytometry and stable isotope analysis.  The availability of different forms of N depends on ocean stratification, which is sensitive to global warming, so we may see changes in algal communities over time if warming continues. The student intern will be conducting flow cytometry analysis of phytoplankton samples collected on oceanographic cruises off Bermuda and will be involved in sample processing and cruise work. Complete description and application details here.

[POSITION OPEN] Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) Operated Trace Gas Sensing Platform for Emission Monitoring of Atmospheric Pollutants
Faculty Sponsor and Department: Gerard Wysocki, EE
Project Summary: There is a rapidly growing number of potential applications that require trace-gas sensing to be performed over hundreds of sq. km with good spatial and temporal resolution. Example applications would include: real-time leak localization around geological carbon sequestration sites, monitoring of industrial, agricultural and natural emissions, or volcanic emissions sensing. All such applications rely on spatio-temporal mapping which can be performed using 1) single point sensors and modeling of atmospheric fluxes, 2) distributed network of trace gas sensors, or 3) vehicular deployments. The latter is particularly attractive for fast monitoring of large geographical areas without dedicated infrastructure. However such deployments are usually limited only to specialized vehicles with high ownership and maintenance cost. Development of inexpensive, high sensitivity, low-power, ultra compact trace gas sensing technology will enable cost-effective deployments using unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) for large area chemical sensing. Laser-based atmospheric trace-gas sensors have great potential for use in such applications. We are currently working on new prototype laser spectroscopic platform, which has excellent potential to be used in UAV-based deployments. The overall goal of the proposed project is to develop and implement an optical sensor technology suitable for UAV-based monitoring of trace gases. The interested candidate will be involved in a design of an ultra-light laser-based micro-sensor, energy-efficient sensor control electronics, and implementation of the sensor module into UAV platform. Design, laboratory sensor calibration, and field-testing of the UAV-platform will be carried out during the internship.
Complete description and application details here.

Additional sponsored internship positions in Development, Health, and Sustainability are available and can be viewed on the linked sites below:

* Development

* Health



EGC Internship Archive

Archive of Internship Descriptions


Archive of EGC Student Summary Reports

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