David White completes 15-month internship at ORNL

March 14, 2013
Contact: Mary Moates ‘14, Communications Assistant
865.981.8207; communications@maryvillecollege.edu

Only a junior at Maryville College, computer science major David White has already completed an extensive internship in a national laboratory.

Along with students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale and other universities, White was accepted into the competitive internship program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) the summer following his freshman year.

“Finding out that I was selected was surreal,” White said. “I was in such doubt that a freshman from a liberal arts college could get into ORNL, and yet there I was.”

White was invited to extend his internship after the summer, continuing to work at ORNL while attending college. He worked at the laboratory for a total of 15 months.

“David is one of the few students to be invited to work at ORNL the summer after his first year of college,” said Dr. Maria Siopsis, associate professor of mathematics. “The fact that he was invited back shows what a great job he did while he was there. This kind of drive and ability is what will continue to push his career forward here at MC and beyond.”

At ORNL, White worked with measurements in a high-temperature, high-magnetic field environment in the Materials Science and Technology Division at ORNL under four different scientists.

“I gained unique, priceless experience that I believe everyone interested should receive,” White said. “Classes can only teach you so much about a career. Practical, real-world experience is invaluable.”

White assisted Orlando Rios, his mentor at ORNL, and his associates in a project called “Carbon Nanotube Enhanced Functional Carbon Fibers from Renewable Resources,” an experiment to create battery materials and one of the three experiments White participated in while at ORNL. He kept track of samples used in the project, as well as processing data and preparing presentations.

He also had the opportunity to work on the Microelectronic Systems Research Group Project to create an alternative method for processing single crystal superalloys, which are currently used in high-strength and high-temperature applications, such as turbine blades in jet engines, power plants and turbochargers.

“I learned what the scientific method looks like in the real world,” White said. “Lab work consisted of a lot of observing at first, but eventually I was able to run furnaces and operate microscopes and other apparatuses on my own.”

White said that he learned a great deal about what a professional workplace is, and what is expected of an individual working in a national laboratory like ORNL.

“ORNL gave me a unique look into the day-to-day life of a research scientist,” White said. “I found that working in a lab can be extremely stressful, though rewarding.”

White said that two classes at Maryville College specifically contributed to his performance at ORNL.

“Composition gave me great help with written and verbal communication, and chemistry gave me the basic lab skills essential for effective, safe and scientific practices in a place like ORNL,” White said. “Another great contribution from many classes came in the form of team building and leadership.”

Dr. Mary Turner, associate professor of chemistry, said that even in his freshman year, White began asking questions at a deeper level than the average student.

“He really wants to understand why nature works the way it does at its most fundamental level,” Turner said. “I appreciate that curiosity in him, and I know that it will serve him well in his future as a scientist or engineer.”

Now that his internship at ORNL is complete, White said that he plans to find an internship in another setting, with possibly a different area of focus.

“The internship at ORNL gave me a unique window into the life of a scientist and engineer and will be invaluable in my career choices to come,” White said. “I hope to use this experience to discern where I want to go with my career. I could still go back to ORNL if I find another program I am interested in.”

White said that he plans to graduate with either a concentration in mechanical or electrical computer engineering, or a dual major in computer science and chemical physics, and then continue to graduate school.

“I hope that something really sparks my interests from there, and I can decide whether to go into research, industry, teaching or some combination of the three,” White said. “I am hoping a few more upper-level classes and internships will help me there.”

A 2010 graduate of Cherokee High School in Rogersville, Tenn., David is the son of Robert and Andrea White of Hampton, Va.