Berkeley Lab

ATAP Offers Exciting Opportunities for Students

SULI intern Valerie Smykalov (left) and CCI intern Johnny Pinto. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

By Carl A. Williams, August 23, 2023

The education and training of future scientists and engineers are integral to ATAP’s mission. Several avenues are open to students (domestic and international) wishing to gain hands-on experience at one of the country’s foremost national laboratories and to work alongside world-renowned researchers and leaders in their respective fields.

For example, several internship programs are available to students, descriptions of which can be found at Berkeley Lab Workforce Development and Education Office. These programs are sponsored and managed by the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists in collaboration with the DOE National Laboratories.

Two students joining ATAP on internship programs this year were Valerie Smykalov and Johnny Pinto.

A Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship student from Pennsylvania State University, Smykalov worked with Staff Scientist Arun Persaud from ATAP’s Fusion Science & Ion Beam Technology Program on a project that aims to measure the carbon content of soil more accurately. The project, says Persaud, uses neutron scattering techniques to measure soil carbon and “offers a three-dimensional reconstruction of elemental distributions in soil.”

“We will provide density maps for certain elements that we calculate from the area of peaks at specific energies in the acquired gamma-ray spectra. To achieve this, we needed to include gamma-ray and neutron attenuation within the soil.”

He noted that while the team’s existing model accounts for these two processes, this model is based only on average soil density and moisture. “Valerie worked on experiments to verify these models by measuring neutron attenuation at different soil moisture levels and then analyzed the data and showed that the models match the experiments well.”

Smykalov says that working in ATAP has “greatly strengthened my confidence in taking ownership over my research and applying my background in earth science to a wide variety of projects.”

Co-supervised by Staff Scientist and Deputy Director for Experiments at ATAP’s BELLA Center Jeroen van Tilborg and University of California, Berkeley, graduate student Curtis Berger, Pinto joined the center under the Community College Internship program from a community college in North Carolina. His work focused on environmental fluctuations such as mechanical vibrations that create variations in the shot-to-shot laser pulses that drive next-generation laser-plasma accelerators (LPAs), the LPA electron beams, and the photon sources driven by these beams.

“He also worked on the post-processing of LPA free-electron laser (FEL) data smartly by developing Machine Learning techniques to separate ‘good’ FEL shots from incoherent background shots,” says van Tilborg, adding that “it was a great experience to have Johnny in the group, and we can tell that the feeling was mutual.”

According to Pinto, he “enjoyed learning about what it means to be a researcher; to be a researcher means to explore and solve problems with a creative mindset. The team environment was one of the most enjoyable parts of working at the BELLA Center. Everyone helped each other out when I had problems or questions.”


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