When most college students break for lunch, they simply relax. But not students who spend the summer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

They recently discussed science on their lunch hour, when more than 90 young scientists and engineers unveiled their collaborative research at Argonne’s second annual Learning on the Lawn event.

The lunchtime celebration capped 10 weeks of intense discoveries and experimentation for Argonne’s summer interns, led by luminaries from across the laboratory – from nuclear engineers to biologists to experts in exascale computing, systems that will be more than 50 times quicker than today’s supercomputers.

William Trevillyan discussing his research poster with fellow intern.

Summer intern William Trevillyan explains his nanoparticle research with fellow intern Savannah Mitchem.

(Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

The students were brimming with enthusiasm and new insights. ​“I studied whether we can improve heating and cooling conditions in windows with nanoparticles that help reflect infrared light and heat – some as tiny as 50 nanometers (a billionth of one meter),” said William Trevillyan, a visiting chemical engineering major at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Trevillyan is a participant at Argonne in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program sponsored by DOE’s Office of Science.

“In experiments with a micro-reactor, we discovered promising results with slightly smaller particles that are more uniform in size, he said.”

Nearby, Austin Degitz, a budding chemical engineer at the University of Missouri and another SULI intern, touted the virtues of battery recycling and how Argonne’s one-of-a-kind model measures the amount of energy it requires (or saves) – from the factory floor to the landfill. ​“We can calculate how different recycling methods may improve our quality of life,” he said.

Zachary Skluzacek facing the camera, discussing his research poster

SULI intern Zachary Skluzacek described how he monitored computers that power Argonne’s sensors in the City of Chicago.

(Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

Another way to improve livability – at least in cities – is to install sensors, which SULI intern Zachary Skluzacek, a computer science junior at Macalester College, helped maintain as part of his Argonne summer internship. The sensors monitor traffic, smog and weather as part of Argonne’s urban Array of Things project.

“I developed a central dashboard that tracks which sensors are working or not.” Skluzacek said. ​“It offers a holistic view and allows researchers to drill down if they see problems.”

Meanwhile, a crowd gathered around Brianna LaPapa, an SULI intern and environmental science major at the University of Iowa, as she explained how willow shrubs may benefit farmland by slowing the runoff of nitrates from fertilizers and supporting bees that help pollinate crops.

Brianna LaPapa discussing her research posted with three of her peers

Argonne intern Brianna LaPapa (left) discussed her research on biodiversity to her peers.

(Image by Argonne National Laboratory)

“Willow shrubs had the highest number of insect species within the field,” said LaPapa, referring to her research site in Fairbury, Illinois. ​“If these trends continue, we may find these shrubs can be a beneficial habitat to not only pollinators, but many other species as well.”

Students and researchers lingered into the afternoon, which pleased Meridith Bruozas, manager of Educational Programs at Argonne. ​“Learning on the Lawn is a great opportunity for our students to develop their scientific communication skills, which are essential for scientists today, and for Argonne to honor and celebrate their great work.”

The SULI program encourages undergraduate students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers by providing research experiences at the DOE laboratories and facilities. Selected students participate as interns appointed at one of 17 participating DOE laboratories and facilities. They perform research, under the guidance of laboratory staff scientists or engineers, on projects supporting the DOE mission. The SULI program is sponsored and managed by DOE’s Office of Science.