Name: Hannah James
Class Year: 2022
Major: Physics and Astronomy
Hometown: Cornwall, UK
Internship Organization: Swathmore Engineering Department
Job Title: Researcher
Location: Bryn Mawr and Swathmore labs
Award: Edith May Broecker Internship Fund
What’s happening at your internship?
This summer, under the supervision of Carr Everbach, who is a professor of engineering at Swathmore college, I am researching, designing, and building a swimming robot. My passion is space exploration, and this robot allows for that. The robot I am creating would swim on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. It would need to swim through icy slush, which has a low Reynold’s number. Therefore, regular propulsion would not work, as the liquid is too ‘thick’ for this. Thus, innovation is required. I was able to prove that memory metal could be used to power and control the appendages of the robot. Memory metal, in simple terms, is a metal that contracts back to its original shape when heated. When heated inside the robot, the memory metal would contract and straighten, pulling on the ‘arms’ of the robot, and allowing for it to move. The design that I am working on is based on the barnacle Tetraclita Japonica. This barnacle has pairs of arms that move down one by one, and then the arms return to their original position all together. This is a kind of two-steps-forward one-step-back type of thing. It is so interesting seeing nature and machine come together.
Why did you apply for this internship?
I am double majoring in physics and astronomy and am hoping to go to graduate school for aerospace engineering. As my major isn’t in engineering, I need something to help me stand out. This research is just that. Thanks to the Tri-Co, I can get engineering experience that I can’t get directly from Bryn Mawr. This summer research not only provides me with something that will help my applications stand out, but I am also planning on continuing it into my senior year and want to write my thesis on this. Another thing that motivated me to pursue this internship is how hands on it is. I am always playing around with different tools and equipment, and it’s nice to see physical progress.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced at your internship?
The biggest challenge so far is trusting myself and my capabilities. I have weekly meetings with the professor overseeing my work, yet apart from that, I am on my own. I make decisions regarding what materials to use, where to buy these, and how to test them to make sure they are suitable. This means that I can’t doubt decisions I make, otherwise I would make very little progress. However, this is also one of the most rewarding parts of my internship. The progress I make is my progress and is down to me. I am not just showing my professors and graduate schools that I am capable of independent research, yet I am also proving it to myself. Finally, I love being able to apply what I have learnt in my physics and astronomy classes, for example, in the electronics lab I took freshman year. I love applying my knowledge, and this is the perfect opportunity for that.
Visit the Summer Internship Stories page to read more about student internship experiences.