Brenda Escobedo

CCI intern creates a detector emulator for Argonne’s Gammasphere Accelerator


Internship program: CCI
Year: 2018
Undergraduate institution: Moraine Valley Community College, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Major: Electrical engineering
Host DOE laboratory: Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Argonne, Illinois
Mentor name: John Anderson

What was your research topic during your internship?
At Argonne National Laboratory (Argonne), I worked with a team of engineers and physicists on the Gammasphere Accelerator. The accelerator is similar to those portrayed in sci-fi shows such as The Flash. Fun Fact: Argonne's Gammasphere Accelerator was featured in one of the Hulk movies! At the time of my research, Gammasphere was receiving upgrades to its software, hardware, and firmware. While these upgrades were underway, I worked to understand the germanium detectors found on the Gammasphere accelerator, and to design a device to mimic their functions, a “detector emulator.” Germanium detectors play a crucial role in testing an electronic module found on Gammasphere. However, the detectors are very large and require liquid nitrogen, making the testing process difficult. The detector emulator I developed enhanced the testing process, reducing the amount of space required while matching the function of the original detector from an electrical standpoint, making it ideal for use in the initial testing of Gammasphere’s upgrades.

What was it like coming to a National Lab for your internship?
I had completed only two semesters of community college before starting my internship at Argonne - I felt ecstatic to be there but also a bit intimidated because I was so young. Little did I know, this experience would change the way I see myself as a student, scientist, and person. Compared to my community college, which has only one science building, Argonne was HUGE with a different building for each specific area of science! At first it was a bit difficult making new friends at such a large institution, but with its friendly environment and many academic and social events, the summer flew by before I knew it! My time at Argonne was also the first time I had been alone and experienced some freedom. I lived on campus during the summer and made a lot of long-lasting relationships with peers and scientists. Argonne's atmosphere was very friendly both academically and socially and it was very easy to feel at home.

Describe a concern you had while considering or applying to the internship. What advice would you give to help a student with the same concern today?
When applying for this role, I was very nervous about obtaining my letters of recommendation. I knew who I would be asking, but the process was new to me and therefore intimidating. Regarding letters of recommendation from professors, my best advice is to ask them in person if possible, maybe after class, and then follow up with an email. Make sure to include in your email why you're interested in the position, your resume, and how they should submit your letter.

Think of a time you experienced success during your internship. What did this success look like?
The first time I experienced success in my internship at Argonne was when I learned to solder – when I soldered alone for the first time, it felt so great! Even though learning this new skill might seem like a small success, it was a big success to me as a new and timid intern. Learning to solder made me feel independent in my work and gave me the confidence to solder my whole circuit board and tackle other new skills!

Think of a time you experienced failure during your internship or academic career. How did you feel at the time? How did you deal with the failure and work past it?
Many times during my academic career I have felt impostor syndrome. This made me feel like I wasn't fit for whatever position I was in and also made me constantly invalidate my own work by saying it wasn't good enough. I began to work through this when I realized I wasn't the only one who experiences these feelings. I found peace in talking about impostor syndrome to my peers and also by talking to myself with kindness.

What are your hopes for your career?
I am considering going to grad school for Materials Science and Engineering.