A world-renowned science, technology and research laboratory, tasty red and green chile, and beautiful terrain called Carlos and Miguel Chacon back to their home state of New Mexico this summer.
The brothers, both senior engineering (robotics) majors in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus, recently completed summer internships at the famed Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico.
LANL, located 35 miles from the town of Los Alamos, has been the subject of renewed interest with the recent release of the blockbuster film “Oppenheimer,” about J. Robert Oppenheimer, an American theoretical physicist and director of the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos laboratory during World War II.
The Chacon brothers are very familiar with LANL and its surroundings. They graduated from Los Alamos High School and did coursework in robotics at The University of New Mexico Los Alamos.
“I was very excited and honored when I received the news that I was accepted as a summer intern for LANL. Being at one of the country’s top scientific and national security laboratories with experts spanning a wide variety of fields, this internship has been an excellent opportunity to learn, develop my (professional) network and gain valuable experience,” Carlos said.
Carlos worked on developing procedures and conducting experiments on how water molecules behave in a vacuum environment similar to that commonly found in the chambers and glove boxes used to handle plutonium at LANL. The overall aim was to identify methods and techniques to effectively remove moisture in production environments.
“LANL has a very well-organized mentoring program for undergraduate student interns, and I am thankful for my two mentors who have supported me in every step I have taken to grow as an engineer and who let me know that my work is helping make a difference,” Carlos said.
Like his brother, Miguel said he feels fortunate and grateful to have had the opportunity to work at LANL.
“I have learned so much throughout this experience, and it has opened my eyes to the wide range of important scientific work that is carried out by LANL. I am also amazed at all the connections I have made at the lab so far, and have gotten the chance to meet some amazing people who are working on exciting projects,” he said.
Miguel’s experience with LANL started in his junior year when, as an intern, he worked on the conceptual design of a robotics alignment system for the Precision High Energy Density Liner Implosion eXperiment (PHELIX). This summer he worked on another PHELIX project using Finite Element Analysis. He helped design and develop controls for an experiment using software called LabVIEW and gained project management experience in engineering procurement by organizing and tracking parts needed for experiments.
Both Carlos and Miguel agree that their experience as ASU honors and engineering students helped them prepare for and secure internships at LANL.
"As a senior in Barrett, and looking back at my university experiences, it is clear to me that my training prepared me well for this task through my classes and employment. The well-rounded and project-packed curricula helped me to develop my work ethic, team-working skills, and general knowledge in STEM,” Carlos said, adding that his work as a Barrett student engagement assistant improved his collaboration and communications skills.
“The Human Event and similar honors courses helped me to develop my critical thinking and writing skills that have been instrumental in approaching and solving problems,” he added.
Miguel said several team project classes helped prepare him to work at LANL.
“I have been able to apply a lot of the skills I learned into actual practice, from translating user needs to project requirements, to going from a concept design to an actual prototype, to working on a multidisciplinary team,” he said.
“Barrett also prepared me by setting me up to this standard of not just doing things, but doing things well and learning from them. Each honors enrichment contract and honors course I have taken has allowed me to explore possible new interests and dive into a subject that I was previously unfamiliar with, and by the end, I became comfortable and surpassed my expectations of what I thought was possible. In other words, the ASU and Barrett experience has prepared me by making it comfortable for me to push my comfort zone,” Miguel added.
At the end of the summer, LANL held a science fair for interns to present their work. Miguel won the 2023 LANL Symposium Award in Engineering for the work he did as a summer intern.
What do they want their fellow students to know about LANL?
“It is a place like no other in terms of the wide range of interesting work being done in the name of national security. As an intern, it is a great place to make connections and hone in on your interests. As an employee, it is a great place to start off your career and work on meaningful projects that make a difference,” Miguel said.
Carlos suggested that students interested in interning at LANL research the work being done there and take a look at available internship opportunities that may fit their interests.
“Located near Santa Fe, Taos and on the edge of the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico, Los Alamos is surrounded by beautiful views, great hiking trails, and rich history and food, making it ideal for nature, history and food lovers,” he said.
“My personal favorite are the burritos. Make sure you add chile! Whether it is red or green is up to personal preference. Ask for 'Christmas' and you get both. Either way, you have to try New Mexican chile. Just like LANL, there’s nothing else like it in the world.”
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