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MIT student blogger Chris M. '12

My first real internship by Chris M. '12

Quick, what does an atom bomb, the plural form of a famous Texas battle, and hiking have to do with each other?


If you guessed “Blowing up the alamo into pieces then hiding out in the mountains”, I admire your creativity, but you’re wrong. If you guessed internship, you’re pretty good at reading titles. If you guessed I’ll be working at Los Alamos this summer and I’m currently looking for an apartment somewhere near the community center, well then you creep me out a little bit. BUT restraining orders aside, you are correct. I will be working at Los Alamos National Labratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico this summer studying “inhomogeneity in cuprates”. For those of you with complexions darker than mayonnaise, that’s nerd-speak for inconsistencies in high temperature superconductors.

If the word “Superconductor” leaves you with an image of the world’s lamest comic book about a crime-fighting band instructor, then you should know that superconductors are actually crazy materials that once cooled below a certain temperature, start doing weird things–like having 0 resistance and thus being able to maintain a current without a voltage. The only problem with these awesome devices is that they require you to cool them down to really low temperatures, like 20 Kelvin cold (roughly the ambient temperature in Boston in January). But lately there have been some superconductors that have transition temperatures higher than what was formerly predicted to be the maximum. Physicists are understandably intrigued by these “high temperature superconductors” and figuring out what properties they can exploit to make higher and higher temperature superconductors.

At this point you’re probably thinking “Oh sure, that’s cool, but so what? Why is that important?” Well, it turns out that superconductors have tons of good applications. If you’ve ever had an MRI, congratulations! You experienced the benefits of a superconductor! The giant magnetic field created by MRI machines comes from a superconducting coil that has current flowing through it. If non-superconducting material were used, it would require constant energy being put into the machine to maintain the magnetic field. It wouldn’t be nearly as strong either, as the wires would heat up from resistance and either melt or limit the field strength (whichever comes first).

The implications of high-temp superconductors is enormous. Powerlines that don’t lose energy transmitting over long distances. Magnetic batteries that can be charged denser than existing batteries, and recharged infinite times without losing charge density. Circuits that do calculations without generating heat, solving the current wall chip manufacturers have run into dealing with heat on microchips. Seriously, it would be a big deal.

So where does hiking fit into all this? and what about that atom bomb? Well Los Alamos is in the certified middle of nowhere, which as it turns out is the perfect place to build top secret atomic weapons. If you’ve ever heard of the “Manhattan Project”, you know that a lot of that research took place at Los Alamos.

I bet housing is cheap out there.

Being in the middle of nowhere also means there is relatively little to do besides detonate huge bombs in the desert. What they do have though, is an abundance of outdoorsy things like hiking, rock climbing, rafting, camping etc. So I’ll get to work on physics all day, and go camping on the weekends! Could it be more perfect?

20 responses to “My first real internship”

  1. k4rl says:


    that’s awesome Chris!!! have lots of fun in New Mexico!

    I actually guessed Los Alamos!

  2. Justin E '13 says:

    OMG Chris that’s like my dream job (nerdiness coming out) be sure to keep us up to date in the blog of how things go down there!

  3. Ash says:

    Oh, Chris, you make me lawl so hard. I’m really proud of you and super excited about hearing what you’ll be doing (as much as you can tell me, that is).

  4. Chris Praley says:

    I love reading your entries. Have fun at your internship!

  5. Ahh! WW3! I knew it! >,Ahh! WW3! I knew it! >,<

    It’s awesome that you’re going to work in Los Alamos. I did not understand this, however: “For those of you with complexions darker than mayonnaise …”

  6. Chris M. says:

    @ Jose P. ’13

    Admittedly, it was perhaps too subtle, but the joke was if you’re as white as mayonnaise, you must not go outside much.

  7. Anonymous says:

    admire you’re creativity-> admire your creativity

    Good thing MIT isn’t known for its English.

  8. Oasis '11 says:

    Hey, at least you’re not working in Saco, Montana, which has the honor of being the farthest incorporated town on the lower 48 states from an interstate highway (Saco is 189 miles by road to the nearest interstate). =p

  9. Shiv says:

    Hey thats an amazing Internship you’ve got there!!! Best of luck and have fun! And do tell us about it.

  10. shawn '11 says:

    Nice! When are you starting? I’m also interning at LANL this summer; I’m heading over a week from today. Really excited to start. I’m working with a group trying to build a dark matter detector.

  11. I guessed LANL!!!! I did a project on the Manhattan Project a few months ago. I focused on Oak Ridge National Lab, though, because I am setting up an internship for the near future and I have participated in a few programs there in the past. It is my dream career choice!

    Please share your experience!

  12. Heather G. says:

    Hey Chris,
    My name is Heather and I am fourteen but my xel teacher insists that I should look at colleges now, so why complain right? Well I found out about MIT from a guest speaker when I asked him what college/university I should go to to become a nuclear physicist and he suggests MIT. So I kinda wanted to know what you could tell me about the nuclear program from a students point of veiw or if you could possibly point me to someone who could.
    Thanks for you time,

    P.S. Congrats on the internship. It sounds like so much fun! By the way, our eighth grade science class just learned about super conductors. Pretty cool. wink

  13. I guessed Los Alamos actually. I am a big WW2 kinda person.

    I hope you’re able to blog about this. Snively couldn’t blog about his internship at Hasbro because of all the non disclosure agreements. Are you bound by agreements as well? Cos otherwise it would be cool to know how far the high temp. superconductors have come.

  14. Sheila ('13) says:

    Lol. Congrats on your internship! Please share your experiences! :D

  15. @ Chris M.

    Oh! Haha, I missed that one, sorry.

  16. I’m a parent doing a little research…came across this blog…we almost got transferred to Los Alamos a few years back….

    Don’t know if you were being facetious or not, but housing in Los Alamos is about the most expensive in the state. Sounds as though another blogger (or two) is going to be out there also–you might want to consider sharing a place.

    By the way, you do know that it was a boys’ camp before Oppenheimer et al. took it over?

  17. Chris M. says:

    @ Kathleen Haar
    Thanks for the comment, the caption is supposed to be a joke, as in one would expect housing to be cheap in an area where a nuclear bomb went off. (though to be accurate white sands is quite a ways away from Los Alamos, so the joke takes some liberties) Trust me, I’ve found out first hand that housing certainly isn’t cheap out there, and I am splitting housing with some people. (Thanks for the tip)

    and I actually did know it was once a boys camp =)

  18. I’ll be joining you out there this summer! But I’m actually doing atomic stuff! raspberry Fusion to be exact.

  19. Alexa says:

    Hey Chris,

    Congrats on the internship! One of my best friends has been in Los Alamos for over a year working at one of their labs. He loves it – the hiking, the laid back atmosphere, the cheaper cost of living, etc.

    If you need any local resources over there, let me know and I’ll put you guys in touch. Who knows? You just might be on the same research team!