Pierre Alameda

Former SULI intern now engineers digital storage devices

Internship program: SULI
Year: 2017
Undergraduate institution: Iowa State University
Major: Materials Engineering 
Host DOE laboratory: Ames Laboratory, Ames, IA
Mentor name: Pratik K. Ray

What was your research topic during your internship?
During my SULI internship I had the opportunity to study high-entropy alloys, or multi-metallic compounds that have desirable characteristics at high temperatures. Specifically, I studied how changing the metallic composition of the alloy affected key characteristics including how the metals come together to form the alloy (microstructure), and the alloy’s annealing (heating) response and oxide formation.

What really excited me about my project was experiencing firsthand how scientists develop and characterize new materials. I got to form the compounds and explore a multitude of their characteristics. The potential to explore a material you made and explain its behavior is truly an awesome opportunity and one for which I was very grateful!

What was it like coming to a National Lab for your internship?
My internship was conducted at Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. As a Materials Engineering undergraduate at Iowa State University, it was nice to have the experience in a location that I was comfortable with. That being said, I was exposed to a whole different side of the campus and a new community through the internship. I gained insight to the research community, and in particular learned what their day-to-day work looked like. The internship program also had its fair share of networking activities, where I could meet and learn about other SULI interns and their projects. The scientific community at Ames was very friendly. Between the other interns, my mentor, and his team, I met incredible people through this program.

What do you currently do, and where do you hope your career takes you?
I currently work as a Wafer Sustaining Engineer at Seagate Technology in Edina, Minnesota - this company is known for its data devices such as hard drives and solid state drives. I've had the opportunity to work on microelectronics and learn about the characteristics that make them work and how they are manufactured in a production environment. I hope to continue my career as an engineer at Seagate Technology and continue to learn even more about the material properties that shape the future of data and how the world uses it.

Think of a time you experienced success during your academic or professional career. What did this success look like?
During my time at Seagate Technology, a problem arose where a specific product was having shorting issues, or no electric current running through them. Over three weeks, we ran multiple data reports and still didn't have a clue as to what was causing the issue. I decided to step back from the data. Thinking through the production process, I noticed a pattern that the products with the shorting issue were all worked on by a common tool. I didn’t have all the data I needed to confirm this observation, but I still decided to send an email asking the operators to check the tool any abnormalities. The operators thought it was odd that I would want halt use of the tool without concrete evidence that the problem originated with it, but, sure enough, they ended up finding a laser abnormality.

This experience built my confidence in my expertise and ability to do my job. My strong understanding of the underlying processes for microelectronic fabrication, in combination with a strong gut feeling, were enough to find the root cause of the issue and correct it.

Think of a time you experienced failure during your academic or professional career. How did you feel at the time? How did you deal with the failure and work past it?
During my SULI internship, I ran into a problem while creating alloys. I would carefully measure all the component metals, put them in a pressurized vacuum chamber, melt them together, and then scan the newly-formed compound with a tool to tell me the amount of each metal in the compound. What I didn't realize is that metals sometimes out-gassed during melting, which caused a very confusing result during scanning. At the time, I had no idea what was going on - I was sure I had put in exactly the amount of each metal I wanted. After taking a step back and looking into what was causing the issue, I realized the potential for out-gassing during melting. I redid my calculations to account for this based on the potential for out-gassing of each material as specified by other researchers. The next time the composition was exactly what I wanted. I learned a valuable lesson: research is a constant process of learning from your mistakes, correcting them, and turning them into successes. This constant cycle of failing and learning is precisely the reason why I highly recommend research.

Did you make any important personal connections during your internship?
A very strong and important connection I made during my internship was with my mentor, Pratik Ray. Pratik has helped me with much more than just research in my life. For example, he was there for me during uncertain times when the place I call home, Puerto Rico, was hit with a very strong hurricane. He also helped me apply for and get accepted to various graduate school programs. I ultimately chose to go into industry to help my financially-strained family, and Pratik wrote recommendations for the jobs I applied to. 

What are your values? How do express your values through your academic or professional career?
I have a set of values that I believe I express greatly throughout my career: loyalty, strong work ethic, and adaptability, to name a few. I believe my loyalty is never in question as I am very upfront about how I feel about my current situation whenever I am asked. My strong work ethic is expressed by my giving it my all every day - my colleagues trust that I am the one to turn to when they want something done. Finally, I have shown the ability to try new things and shift my mindset to complete new obstacles put in front of me. For example, I have gone on international work trips to help with event fallout in other facilities and contributed to other projects that are normally outside my position.


Pierre receiving his SULI certificate from Ames Laboratory director Adam Schwartz


Pierre (on right) with his twin brother receiving their rings for the Order of the Engineer oath during their senior year of college