Building science teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) welcomed their first two JUMP into STEM interns this summer. Aryanna Sanchez and Xinyan Liu were among the winners of this year’s nationwide competition, which is open to undergraduate and graduate students from various majors and focuses on creative ideation and diversity in the building science field.
Established in 2015, the annual JUMP into STEM competition offers a unique, immersive learning experience designed to inspire the next generation of building scientists through challenges with real-world industry impact. Members of winning challenge teams receive paid internships at Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories where they gain hands-on experience and mentorship.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have been managing JUMP into STEM for the past few years, with PNNL joining in 2021 and hosting its first interns in 2022. The program is funded by the DOE Building Technologies Office with support from industry sponsors.
Immersive experiences in building science
Aryanna Sanchez first learned about JUMP into STEM from her professor for alternative energy at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where she’s studying mechanical engineering and systems engineering and plays on the soccer team. Her professor worked at NREL and encouraged his students toward the program for an opportunity to experience working at a national laboratory, so Sanchez and another student took it upon themselves to enter. With a challenge focused on market adoption for emerging efficiency technologies, their project focused on a solution employing key cards for building complexes to trigger power supply to only certain aspects of a building.
“I’m really interested in sustainable energy technology and improving products and environments to incorporate human technology and maximize performance and safety, especially in the world around us today,” said Sanchez. “This is a growing field and I want to be a part of it.”
After her team won their challenge, Sanchez was offered an internship at PNNL, which concluded in late July. Her time at PNNL was focused on learning about heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems, as well as the Modelica programming language for simulating dynamic systems. She then used that to create simulation models for packaged terminal heat pumps and their controls that could be used in experiments to simulate grid interaction experiments. The models will also act as a contribution to the DOE’s Spawn-of-EnergyPlus project.
“In building the models, I had to go through specific aspects of building a controller that tells the system what to do and when,” said Sanchez. “It was a giant puzzle that I hadn’t experienced before that way. Trying to figure it out for myself was the highlight of my internship experience.”
“It was a pleasure to have Aryanna on board this summer,” said her mentor, Karthik Devaprasad, a mechanical engineer in PNNL’s building simulation group. “She jumped in ready to learn and contribute. She was enthusiastic about learning new concepts as well as an entire new programming system that is increasingly used in the building simulation and controls validation spaces. She not only picked up on new skills and knowledge very quickly, but also contributed to a larger on-going project at the lab.”
Xinyan Liu recently completed the first year of her PhD program in environmental engineering at the University of Utah. She found the JUMP into STEM opportunity interesting and was particularly drawn to the challenge topic of how to promote resilience of the built environment, with a focus on equity. Her team applied this concept to a project for the Navajo Nation. Liu partnered with other PhD students from the university’s electrical engineering department who were doing research on the power grid side and from the architecture department, to form a multidisciplinary JUMP into STEM team. “We wanted to build a holistic solution, so it helped to have students from different backgrounds to combine knowledge and skills,” said Liu.
Leading up to the challenge, Liu’s research focus has been on energy-efficient, high-performance buildings and urban energy modeling. Mechanical system design was a focus of her architectural engineering degree. For her JUMP into STEM internship experience at PNNL, which concluded in late August, Liu helped develop performance curves for cold climate heat pumps for residential prototype building models to help DOE’s Building Energy Codes Program quantify potential energy savings from this type of equipment.
“I really appreciate the opportunity to join PNNL as an intern to experience working with a national laboratory and to help develop this project,” said Liu. “It’s a big project promoting a carbon neutral future, and requires knowledge related to mechanical and architectural engineering and requires lots of data analysis and programming skills, which matches my interests and career path.” Liu looks forward to gaining additional skills in computer science and programming and applying them to the engineering field.
“It was great to have Xinyan work with our team on this very important topic,” said Liu’s PNNL mentor, building research engineer Jeremy Lerond. “She was very motivated, made progress quickly, improved her knowledge of building energy simulation, and most importantly provided a product that our team will be able to use in future projects.”