Future Nuclear Engineers Research Fusion at General Atomics

Engineering.com Meghan Brown | September 06, 2016

These 2016 GA undergraduate interns in fusion science and plasma physics continued a program so successful it has generated second- and third-generation scientists. Pictured here at DIII-D National Fusion Facility in San Diego. (Image courtesy of General Atomics)

The start of the school year also means the end of the summer internship season. This includes a group of ten engineering and physics students who interned at General Atomics (GA) this summer, where they worked on research projects contributing to the advancement of fusion energy.

Fusion energy is something of a holy grail for researchers, with the potential to harness power equal to that of the sun as a safe, emission-free and quite possibly limitless energy source. For students interested in this lofty goal, this internship offered exceptionally valuable experience.

Funded through the Department of Energy (DOE) Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program, this summer’s interns were part of a 25-year tradition of internships at GA, which has seen students contribute to research in fusion and plasma physics and technology. It’s also a program that has turned multiple generations of interns into successful nuclear engineers and physicists.

The SULI program provides participating students with the opportunity to work on experiments with GA’s Inertial Fusion Technologies program and to work at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility, the largest magnetic fusion energy facility in the country.

The interns performed their research under the guidance of their mentors and produced results that may be presented at scientific conferences across the country. Being involved in research at this level is valuable for these up-and-coming engineers, since being able to cite their work in projects that have been presented at professional conferences can mean a significant advantage when applying to graduate programs and first jobs.

“The majority of the students who have done summer internships here have gone onto careers in science and engineering, and many of those have continued to work in the field of energy research,” said GA physicist and manager of the internship program, Robert Pinsker.

He continued, “As these students consider going on to graduate school, they do so with a better understanding of plasma physics and fusion. Even though most undergraduate curricula don’t include much in these areas, the topics are important, because almost all of the visible matter in the universe is in the plasma state, including the sun and the stars. The long-term goal of the more than 60-year-old international effort to develop controlled fusion on Earth is to find a new safe, emission-free, virtually inexhaustible energy source to power the future global economy.”

The students involved in the program also speak highly of their experiences and what they learned through the internship.

Summer intern Ryan Chaban, right, with his mentor Dr. David Pace spent the summer working on fusion technology at General Atomics. (Image courtesy of General Atomics.)

“It’s been an all-around fantastic experience – I’ve learned more in my ten weeks at GA than I have in an entire semester at school, and I love school, so that says a lot. I especially admire the passion of the people at GA – the way they collaborate to advance the science of fusion energy,” said Ryan Chaban, one of GA’s interns from Case Western University in Cleveland. “My experience here has made me eager to see the impact that fusion science and technology will have on our civilization in my lifetime.”

If you’re an engineering student interested in pursuing fusion engineering opportunities in your education or career, you’re in luck. The DOE is currently open for applications to the SULI program’s 2017 Spring term.

If nuclear engineering isn’t really your thing, GA isn’t the only possible workplace. The SULI program supplies internship positions for 17 different DOE facilities and laboratories covering a wide range of energy research and technology.

For more information or to apply for an internship, visit General Atomics or the DOE’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program website.