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A Recipe for the Invisible

The SENIC Undergraduate Internship in Nanotechnology (SUIN) program is a major component of the Southeastern Nanotechnology Infrastructure Corridor (SENIC), at the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology at Georgia Tech, that focuses on providing undergraduates in engineering the chance to spend a summer conducting research in a world-class collaborative lab with prominent Georgia Tech researchers. GT-IEN hosted 4 undergraduates from various U.S. colleges over the summer that engaged in hands-on research in a number of fields of nanotechnology.

This is our third installment of interviews with the students who spent their summer conducting research at Georgia Tech. Alexa Espinoza, a student at the University of Florida during the program period, worked with mentor Aaron Jiang in the laboratory of Professor Paul Kohl (ChBE).

1. What sparked your interest in engineering and what problems are you hoping to help solve as an engineer?

I have been interested in engineering since the time I was attending high school. I was involved in STEM activities in middle and high school, such as the Science Olympiad, and enjoyed my math and chemistry classes and I always wanted to learn more. I gravitated to hands-on activities, rather than calculations based ones, and I like how engineering involves a lot of problem solving and forces us to make use of all of our abilities to tackle issues. I feel studying engineering will allow me to apply my problem solving skills to many real-life issues and make a difference, little by little.

2. What research are you conducting at GT and what applications do you feel this research may have?

The lab team I am working with is researching acid diffusion in a type of photosensitive polymer. The control of decomposition and vaporization of polymers is useful in fabrication electronics and devices where the polymer serves as a temporary spatial placeholder. This controlled process is also useful in constructing components that have a fixed lifetime and do not require recovery, or in which recovery is impossible or undesirable.  The decomposition process can be can be triggered by the sun, or another light source, however this fact make working with these materials problematic as their temperature range for material stability is limited. In order to stabilize the process, the team works with a bi-layer polymer film in which the first layer is non photosensitive (polymer only) and a second layer that contains the polymer and decomposing photo-catalyst. Upon the application of exposure trigger the second layer decomposes and the photo-catalyst diffuses into the first polymer layer resulting in its vaporization as well. I am currently working on mixing the polymers and conducting the light exposure testing of the different polymer recipes for data collection and comparison.

3. What has been your favorite lab activity/ tool training/ etc. thus far and why?

My favorite activity has been the orientation and training I received in the inorganic cleanroom. I had never been in a cleanroom before, and it is amazing to see all of the equipment they have. Learning to use the materials and processes was both interesting and a bit scary, and an experience I will never forget.

4. Do you feel this REU experience has helped prepare you for working in a collaborative laboratory environment and furthered your education goals?

I do! Before this experience, I had no idea how laboratory research was conducted, or what it was like to work in a collaborative environment along with other researchers. I have always wanted to explore hands-on research, and this REU was extremely helpful for getting this kind of introduction. I don’t think I could have had a better experience than what I did at GT.

5. What are your plans post-undergraduate?

This experience has opened my eyes to the possibility of graduate school. Currently I am undecided about my post-undergraduate plans, but I am applying for industry internships in pharmaceutical R&D next summer. I would like to compare the two summer research experiences and move forward based on my overall impression of both. 

6. What is your favorite thing about GA Tech and ATL?

I love how green and quite this campus is. You don’t’ feel like you are in downtown Atlanta at all, and it is that contrast that I really enjoyed. Everyone at Georgia Tech has been so nice to us, and Atlanta is such a beautiful city. It was my first time here, and it will definitely not be the last.