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?