Naomy Marrufo

SULI intern researched nano-scale memory storage devices

Internship program: SULI
Year: 2019
Undergraduate institution: California State University, Long Beach
Major: Physics
Host DOE laboratory: Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Argonne, Illinois
Mentor name: Saidur Bakaul

What was your research topic during your internship?
Computer RAM traditionally consists of silicon-based chips. However, our electronics are getting smaller and smaller, and silicon-based chips are quickly reaching a size limit. We need new materials that are just as functional as silicon but can be scaled down. Oxide-based memory devices made out of tungsten and hafnium oxide have previously been made at the micro-scale to replace silicon-based chips. My research topic goal was to further scale down oxide-based memory devices from the micro- to the nano-scale. This involved not only making the devices smaller, but also making design and operation changes to compensate for this smaller size.

What was it like coming to a National Lab for your internship?
It was amazing to be at such a research-oriented institution with innovative scientists and the most up-to-date instruments. My undergraduate institution provided a lot of great research opportunities, but it was not an R1 institution. Being at Argonne exposed me to scientists who are at the forefront of their fields. I attended seminars where innovations and breakthroughs were constantly presented. I was in an environment where everyone was excited and happy to discuss both their research and yours. It was an environment that fostered learning and collaboration. I wasn't treated simply as a student or intern, I was treated as a scientist, and it made me truly feel like one. The transition made me want to continue to work in a similar environment.

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?
I was afraid that, as a minority, I would feel alone and isolated. However, I learned that the National Laboratories are diverse and multicultural with many cultural associations. The students came from a diverse pool. I would strongly encourage reaching out to other students or the program administrators if you have any issues during your internship. The program administrators are on your side - they are genuinely trying to create the best research experience possible for students.

Think of a time you experienced success during your internship. What did this success look like?
Success during my internship came in the form of personal development and realization. My time at Argonne shaped my academic journey and career aspirations. Additionally, I was able to find my voice and advocate for myself. At Argonne, I was a professional, not a student.

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?
Overall I was not able to produce the desired devices. It felt horrible not carrying out the research I intended. I felt like a disappointment. Then I realized that every step in research is a step forward. While the conditions I developed weren't right, the next student can use my research and advance the project in the current direction.

What are your hopes for your career?
I hope to become a researcher for industry or a national laboratory and focus on novel nanotechnology for use in electronics in bio- and environmental sensors. Additionally, I hope to become active in science policy.

Did you make any important personal connections during your internship?
I made great friends in my peers and roommates. We were each other’s support system through the difficult days of getting stuck on research or feeling far from home and family. My peers were essential to my internship. Additionally, I met my role model and she supplied letters of recommendations to me for graduate school applications. I am getting a PhD partly thanks to her.

What are your values? How do express your values through your academic or professional career?
I value integrity and hard work. Both are pillars of research and academia. I am honest with my results and methods, be they failures or successes. I am honest with my knowledge and work hard to increase it. I work hard in pursuit of research. That's why it's meaningful to me.