Undergraduate interns dive into research at CNS-UCSB

August 18, 2009

Four undergraduate students recruited as summer interns at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at UCSB (CNS-UCSB) are now completing their first foray into the world of academic research.

During their 8-week paid internships, the students – Sean Bronston-Wilson, Javier Martinez, Ryan Shapiro and Andrea Tran carried out research on the societal implications of nanotechnology and then gave presentations and prepared research posters on their findings. They were mentored by Graduate Fellows from CNS-UCSB, who used their expertise to guide the interns in their work, and offered support and encouragement.

The internship project focused on carbon nanotubes: minute graphite cylinders that are exceptionally strong, yet light and flexible, and can conduct electricity and heat. They’re already on the market as components of some bicycle frames, hockey sticks and other sports equipment, and in some flat-screen televisions and high-resolution microscopes. They have a myriad other potential uses in composite materials, electronics, sensors, and medical applications.

The interns worked on a value chain analysis of carbon nanotubes – a study that examines all aspects of a product’s lifecycle, including research and development, manufacturing, marketing, distribution, and disposal or recycling.

The CNS-UCSB summer intern program, which recruits from UCSB and local community colleges, is led by Dr. Julie Dillemuth, Education Director for the center. “It gives undergraduates a chance to do graduate-level work,” she said, “and to get a sense of what life in grad school and at a research center is like.”

Two of the interns – Bronston-Wilson, a Communication major at Santa Barbara City College who will attend UCSB in the fall, and Shapiro, a Geology major at Santa Barbara City College – are part of the INSET (Internships in Nanosystems, Science, Engineering and Technology) program at the California NanoSystems Institute at UCSB. INSET is funded by the National Science Foundation as part of its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

The other interns attend UCSB: Martinezis a Spanish major and Tran is a History and Global Studies double major.

They all worked closely with CNS-UCSB Graduate Fellows chosen as mentors. Bronston-Wilson was mentored by Kasim Alimahomed, of CNS' Interdisciplinary Research Group 2 (Innovation); Martinez was mentored by Indy Hurt of Interdisciplinary Research Group 3 (Risk Perception and Media); Shapiro was mentored by Meredith Conroy of Interdisciplinary Research Group 3 (Risk Perception and Media); and Tran was mentored by Rachel Parker and Claron Ridge of Interdisciplinary Research Group 4 (Globalization of Nanotechnology).

Each intern tackled a different part of the value chain analysis for carbon nanotubes: Bronston-Wilson examined intellectual property related to carbon nanotubes; Martinez looked at the potential regulations on carbon nanotubes in health applications; Shapiro studied media coverage of nanotechnology; and Tran investigated how carbon nanotubes are being commercialized in the United States, and in China, another country pushing nanotechnology development.

The questions the interns investigated in their research “have real-world significance and extend across disciplinary boundaries,” Dillemuth said.

Tran described her internship at CNS-UCSB as “a challenging, but rewarding opportunity,” and “an amazing experience. I learned so much about the researching process,” she said, “and all of the mentors and principal investigators were so helpful.”

Bronston-Wilson said that “as an undergraduate, being able to participate in scientific research was a great opportunity for me.”

For more information on the summer undergraduate internship program at CNS-UCSB, contact Education Director Julie Dillemuth.