Lasers operating at the infrared wavelength of 1,550 nanometers power high-speed fiber-optic Internet communications. MIT Microphotonics Center Principal Research Scientist Anuradha Agarwal is developing chemical sensors based on the 1,550-nanometer telecommunications wavelength using a new materials system built of silicon carbide on silicon dioxide on silicon.
MIT Materials Processing Center (MPC) / Center for Materials Science and Engineering (CSME) Summer Scholar Ashley Del Valle Morales is working under Department of Materials Science and Engineering (DMSE) graduate student Peter Su as part of a team in Agarwal’s lab to characterize this new system. Once the devices are fabricated, Del Valle Morales will use a laser system to determine how effectively the sensors detect the toxic industrial chemical N-methylaniline.
Del Valle Morales, a rising junior at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, also will test the silicon carbide-based sensor before and after it is exposed to gamma rays. Tests will show whether detection capabilities or properties of the device change as a result of radiation exposure.
During a three-day selection process in which this year’s group of 11 Summer Scholars heard presentations by faculty, postdocs, and graduate students and also toured their labs, Del Valle says she was drawn to the Agarwal lab, “because I have done research before, I know it’s really important to select a project you like and you’re interested in. Furthermore, a research in which you can expand your knowledge, so that was one point that helped me decide to join.”
“I also liked the enthusiasm and the interest that the grad students and the principal research scientist showed,” Del Valle adds. “I think that’s very important. It makes me feel very welcome in the lab, and it makes me feel like I wouldn’t be alone in this whole process of learning something new.”
“Having an MPC-CMSE Summer scholar working alongside a graduate student in our research program is an excellent opportunity for both the summer scholar and for our group,” Agarwal says. “Our graduate student learns how to be a good role model and mentor to the Summer Scholar, who is typically just a few years younger, shares a passion for science and technology, and perhaps shares dreams and aspirations for a career in the field of engineering.”
“This year, the enthusiasm of our 2016 summer scholar, Ashley Del Valle Morales, is palpable and contagious. We are excited as she starts her research in microphotonic sensors,” Agarwal adds. “Research in our group progresses faster with the presence of a Summer Scholar, since we have a willing and able 'scientist-in-training' in our midst. In fact, a 2009 MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar [Brian Albert], who came to us while still an undergrad at Columbia, graduated with a PhD in DMSE in 2016.”
Del Valle says she applied to the MPC-CMSE internship program in the spring knowing it was highly competitive because of the broad topics and choice of individual projects offered. “I started working on my essays and the whole application right away. I spent maybe three weeks writing and editing my essay with the help of my English professor,” she says.
MPC and CMSE sponsor the nine-week National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates internships with support from NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program. The program runs from June 7 through Aug. 6.