The Jump Into Engineering: An Alden Summer Intern's Experience

Summer 2020 was not your typical year for summer internships.  With employees asked to work from home as much as possible during the pandemic, the normal camaraderie around Alden offices was subdued, but not gone entirely as we found many ways to stay connected with colleagues and clients to keep projects moving forward. The quieter environment also lent itself to engineering deep-diving, and as a result, we were able to let loose one of our summer interns on a research project.

The following is an interview with Sophie Waterhouse, a rising sophomore chemical engineering student at Tufts University, who immersed herself into the research of nanobubbles. Read on to get Sophie's insights on being an Alden intern.

What made you decide to join Alden this summer?

Alden is located just around the corner from where I went to high school. Even though I lived so close, I had no idea what really happened here. I also had very little knowledge about how engineering companies operated in general. On my first tour of the lab, I was astonished to see the size and scope of the applications and technologies that Alden was working on.

As a freshman chemical engineering major at Tufts University, I was both excited and nervous to jump into my first real world engineering experience. Although I had been interested in the few engineering classes I had so far in my college career, I still had doubts about whether or not I was “fit” to be an engineer. As a person who grew up in a small town and values community connection as well as collaboration and scientific advancement, I'm being honest when I say I was nervous about jumping into such a technical field. However, in my first week as a summer intern, employees offered up fresh honey and zucchini from their gardens, invited each other to street cleanups, and fostered the sense of genuine community—something I think can be lost in the race for innovation. 

Summer interns often are given various engineering and technical tasks to complete. How did you choose to focus on a research project?  

In my first interview, the director asked me questions about what I was interested in doing, and he sought out a project for me to work on that matched with my interests and goals. Since I love both chemistry and biology, and am passionate about applying these subjects to environmental issues, Alden asked me to research and write a report on a new and upcoming technology: nanobubbles.

What are some of the takeaways from your research project?

This gave me an opportunity to put my chemistry knowledge to use in a real world context, and to apply the basic principles that I learned in class to a specific topic.  Through this research, I became more and more confident in reading and digesting technical scientific literature, as well as was given great advice regarding how to write an effective and professional scientific report.

The other exciting thing I learned? Nanobubbles have a mysterious side in that unknown forces allow for the stability of these bubbles.

You have our attention. Tell us more!

The results of my research surprised me, my mentor, and team alike. With applications ranging from water oxygenation to plant growth to microbiome support, the potentials of these tiny bubbles were far greater than we had anticipated. After sharing my initial report with the rest of the team, I began working on a second research paper about possible ways to generate these bubbles. I also conducted a webinar to share my findings to the rest of the company, giving me valuable experience in designing an interesting presentation and engaging in public speaking. 

What else did you learn?

While researching nanobubbles, I was also learning about the mechanisms behind a successful engineering career and company. My mentor and many other employees offered me heartfelt advice, suggestions, and intriguing stories about being an engineer. I attended weekly meetings with the Gas Flow Engineering Group, where I heard about different projects going on in the company. Through this, I learned about the steps involved in initiating, carrying out, and completing a project. I also gained useful insight into forming and maintaining relationships with clients, communicating effectively, and acquired information about important financial and marketing strategies. 

Any final thoughts? 

My experience at Alden was both educational and intriguing. Most of all, it gave me confidence in the career path I have chosen. My firsthand experience with new scientific ideas, methods, and technology showed me the incredible applications and future directions of the engineering industry. Lastly, the warm, dynamic employees and supportive work environment provided me with both a sense of comfort and excitement for my future endeavors in engineering. 

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