Andlinger Center program yields summer exploration, new pathways

By Molly Seltzer
January 11, 2019

Saira Reyes had planned to study materials science before she interned in Jose Avalos’ bioengineering lab last summer. Her work there altering genes of organisms to produce biofuels struck a chord with her.

“It was as if I was looking at a giant biological puzzle,” said Reyes, a sophomore. “I realized I love bioengineering.”

Reyes was one of seven undergraduates sponsored by the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment in its eight-week summer internship program. The students worked in labs throughout the University and, for the first time, at two national environmental organizations.

Kim Sha interned at Environmental Defense Fund in Chicago where he analyzed how changes in electricity prices throughout the day could affect consumer behavior and the efficiency of the grid. Sha and colleagues sorted through data on residential energy consumption from 2.8 million homes.

Sha, a senior majoring in chemical and biological engineering, said he valued the experience because “I could hit the ground running and dig into swaths of data to find useful patterns.”

Working with a fellow intern from Cornell University, Sha also contributed to a white paper on how utilities could price electricity according to the time of day and how that pricing could help consumers save money on their electric bills. He said the experience drawing conclusions from large datasets would help him with his senior thesis at Princeton, which will use data on solar irradiance to better test solar cells.

“I’ll use a similar algorithm to the one I used over the summer,” he said.

During the summer Sha also learned about fields such as energy policy and ocean science. “You learn a lot about how such a large non-profit works,” he said. “We were also in a communal space with other energy and clean tech companies so I was able to learn about those businesses as well.”

Natalia Miller worked at The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in Washington, D.C., where she helped develop best practices for telling homeowners how they could save on energy bills. A junior majoring in chemical and biological engineering, Miller learned to use communications tools in addition to acquiring data analysis skills.

Miller said the highlight was learning two new analysis programs, NVivo and SPSS, which allow for working with multimedia and text-heavy data sets. The tools are useful for statistical analysis in social sciences.

“I definitely ‘nerded out’ about those,” said Miller. “I’ll be able to use those throughout my undergraduate career and beyond.”

Heidi Kim, Class of 2021, worked with professors Barry Rand and Minjie Chen of electrical engineering and the Andlinger Center on evaluating designs of solar arrays using a photovoltaic system the researchers built on the roof of the Andlinger Center.

“In my experience, professors and graduate students here are very welcoming and willing to talk about their work, even with students who may not have a lot of background knowledge,” said Kim.

Saira Reyes said she also felt supported in her work in the Avalos lab.  “I was a bit overwhelmed when I started doing literature readings, attending lab meetings, and thinking about my own procedures. But I asked questions and focused on understanding one thing at a time,” said Reyes.  “In the end, I learned so much about bioengineering and research in general. This internship exceeded my expectations.”

Learn more about the undergraduate research experience from Reyes and Princeton’s undergraduate research correspondents here.

Applications for 2019 Andlinger Center summer internships are now open. Explore the opportunities here and apply before March 8, 2019.