Oak Ridge National Laboratory

 

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ORNL welcomes a record number of summer interns

Kelley Coffman is part of a record number of summer interns at ORNL. Coffman, a Vanderbilt graduate student, is working on research related to forensic anthropology.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., June 17, 2009 — A record number of undergraduate and graduate students at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are learning firsthand about science and technologies that could change lives.

This summer ORNL is host to 361 student interns, according to Cheryl Terry, program manager for Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. Internships are designed to support intellectual and professional development, complement academic programs and encourage careers in science and technology.

Over the last 60 years, thousands of students have benefited from the partnership between the Department of Energy and ORISE that seeks to give young students hands-on experience working with some of the world's greatest scientists.

"Mentors host students to prepare them for careers in science," Terry said. "The partnership with ORISE helps ORNL and the Department of Energy help develop future scientists and engineers."

While the number of interns has varied over the years, Terry noted that ORNL has never surpassed the 300 mark. Last year the number of interns was 298; in 2007 the number was 238 and in 2006 ORNL hosted 226 students.

"Several factors have an impact on the increase in intern participation, including the recruitment of additional mentors to work with students, leveraging of programmatic funding, and the increased emphasis of the value of recruiting and training a diverse workforce," Terry said.

Students are immersed in a scientific research environment that serves both the interns and the mentors. For instance, K.C. Cushman, an intern in the Environmental Sciences Division, recognizes the advantages of studying at a research facility.

"I am interested in science as a career path and being part of a research community will help me become familiar with the scientific process," Cushman said.

Meanwhile, Kelley Coffman, a recent graduate of Vanderbilt University, will be assisting Arpad Vass with research in the area of forensic anthropology. Vass is developing a device that detects chemicals from the bones of decomposing bodies. Coffman, who will learn how to use this device and record data from its findings, is looking forward to pursuing the rare opportunities that ORNL has to offer.

"I think my experience will be enjoyable because I am being exposed to things that I would normally not have access to, such as the body farm," Coffman said. "Ultimately, my academic research goal is to write a paper that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal."

The "body farm," formally known at the University of Tennessee as the Anthropological Research Facility, enables students and researchers to study decomposing bodies in varied settings and scenarios. Information gained from the facility helps law enforcement agencies and forensics experts across the nation.

Although an emphasis remains on designing and completing an individual research project, interns have opportunities to participate in weekly scientific seminars, brown bag sessions, a poster session and a graduate fair.

While students expect to face challenges as the summer progresses, construction in ORNL's main campus of the $95 million Chemical and Materials Science facility forced the closing of a parking lot, making even the daily task of finding a parking space difficult. The record number of interns has made office space a premium, and seats in the cafeteria during lunchtime can be scarce.

UT-Battelle manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy.