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Seeing is Believing - In What You Have Built

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.

Over the next months, IEN will be highlighting the undergraduate participants, their research topics and experience in the labs, as well as what they gained from the program and their time at Georgia Tech, and in Atlanta.

Our first interviewee from the program is Alton O'Neal, an undergraduate in Engineering at Clemson University.

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

My interest in engineering developed out of a love of science and math combined with a love of hands-on work and being able to see something function that I built. As an undergraduate I have interned at Clemson’s Maker Space, which gave me a feel for the technical/non-research side on engineering, as well as an industry internship researching carbide synthesis for additive manufacturing, which gave me a researcher’s view of laboratory engineering.  I love solving problems, no matter what the field.

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

I have participating in research on micro-preconcentrators for gas sensors. These sensors have a thin film layer of carbon nanotubes deposited on them which can absorb a target gas for sensing. The sensors’ electrical signal output is altered when the target gas is detected. These pre-loaded detectors have the possibility to lower the threshold at which dangerous gases may be detected, as well as miniaturize the sensor for in-field deployment. These kinds of sensors may be used in a variety of applications, such as medical testing, environmental assessments and agricultural studies.

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

I really enjoyed the micromachining and nanomanufacturing tools available in the cleanrooms, and getting the chance to learn some of the techniques used in the processes for making our lab’s sensors. Through the cleanroom experience, I was able to see the stacked building blocks of materials and processes that go into making nanoscale devices.

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

Absolutely. The high intensity of the work was, at first, a bit of a shock, but because of this focus, I feel I was able to dedicate more time to the project and achieve more results. Additionally, I really appreciated being in a collaborative environment in which I was able, not only to learn from my mentor, team members, and laboratory PI, but also able to contribute.

5. What are your plans post-undergraduate?

I plan on entering industry, as a process engineer, or in R&D, so I will continue to study until I have gained my M.S. degree in either Chemical or Materials Engineering.

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

I have enjoyed being so close to downtown Atlanta without feeling like I am in a completely urban environment. The green-space of the campus, distribution of the campus building, and all of the activities and attractions nearby make the city less intimidating to newcomers.