Science is more than theory and lecture. Science is fun. Science is hands-on. Science is…
As far as internship experiences go, it doesn’t get much better than this.
A national laboratory with a storied history. Projects on the cutting-edge of science. Collaborations with scientists who are off-the-chart smart.
This was the setting for eight NIU computer science students who interned this past summer at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility.
“The overall experience was pretty exceptional,” says Alex Wills, a junior from Coal City who worked at the computing facility on the National Science Foundation-funded Array of Things project.
The project aims to develop a network of urban sensors that will serve as a fitness tracker for the City of Chicago— measuring data on the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity to investigate solutions to urban challenges ranging from air quality to urban flooding. The ultimate goal is to help make cities cleaner, healthier and more livable.
“I wanted to get a taste of the real world,” Wills said. “I gained experience with new coding languages, challenged my critical-thinking skills and collaborated with people who had a wide variety of backgrounds.”
The ALCF is located at Argonne National Laboratory near Lemont. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline.
The ALCF works to accelerate major scientific discoveries and engineering breakthroughs by designing and providing world-leading computing facilities in partnership with the computational science community.
Each summer, the facility solicits student project proposals from staff members who are interested in serving as mentors. In addition to NIU, students came from such institutions as the University of Chicago, the University of California, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Case Western Reserve University.
“We do bring a lot of NIU students to the lab,” says ALCF Director Michael Papka, who is also an NIU computer science professor. “Quite a few of the students have been working with us all year long. It’s a real testament to the NIU computer science program.”
Papka himself mentored multiple students this summer.
“There are many benefits,” he says. “Students get exposed to a national laboratory and the work that goes on here. They also get an experience that they may not see in the classroom.”
Bhaskar Mandapaka, who recently obtained his master’s degree in computer science from NIU, spent his time at the facility working with Papka to construct an 80-watt supercomputer that will be used as an outreach tool for the ALCF.
“At NIU, I learned a lot about parallel computing and applications, but here I gained valuable experience in a real working environment,” Mandapaka says.
Other NIU computer science students serving ALCF internships included Rahul Dendukuri and Venkat Gaddam, who recently graduated with their master’s degrees; current graduate students Shaikh Tissa, Himanshu Verma and Bharat Kale; and undergraduate Jonathon Gaff.
“They did fantastic,” Papka says. “NIU computer science has a long history of placing students at Argonne, both with the ALCF and with the Argonne’s mathematics and computer science division.”