Susan Huang

Former SULI intern goes from DOE internship to DOE HQ

Internship program: SULI
Year: 2003
Undergraduate institution: McGill University
Major: Physics
Host DOE laboratory: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Golden, CO

What was your research topic during your internship?
My research topic was on zinc-based transparent conducting oxides (TCO). TCOs are important materials in applications where a transparent layer is needed to complete an electric circuit such as in display screens or certain types of solar cells. However, some of the elements that are used in TCOs, such as indium, are rare and expensive. This project investigated if TCOs based on zinc, which is a more abundant element, could have the same conductivity as indium-based TCOs.

What was it like coming to a National Lab for your internship?
My summer internship experience at NREL was great. The staff were supportive and inspired me to learn as much as I could during my time there. They answered my questions about all sort of topics, trained me in the lab, and provided valuable insight. The atmosphere was very friendly across the campus since everyone was working on renewable energy research. This is different than a university campus where students are split into their different fields of study. The facilities were also great. There were all different kinds of equipment and tools for studying various areas in renewable energy, from solar cells to biofuels to outdoor testing facilities for wind and solar generators.

Did you make any important personal connections during your internship?
I made valuable friendships during my summer at NREL since we all stayed in the same apartment building. During the weekends, we would go hiking, camping, bike riding, or walking around the city. I still stay in touch with some of the other interns from that summer and get together with them occasionally. I have also kept in touch with my mentors and other staff members with whom I interacted. Some of them I knew through working in the lab, some of them I knew through the many activities at NREL such as ultimate Frisbee.

What do you currently do, and where do you hope your career takes you?
I work with the US Department of Energy in the Solar Energy Technologies Office, planning and managing research programs to improve solar energy technology performance. I hope to help renewable energy technology become fundamental to our energy infrastructure.

Do you have any advice for future interns?
I would advise future interns not to aim for “success” as a goal but to work on projects that they find interesting or engaging regardless of what happens at the end of the project. Failure is going to happen and will happen to everyone. Let yourself feel upset – that will be natural. At the same time, write down what you learned from the “failure” that will help you find new projects and opportunities.