A Day in the Life of a Co-op

Alejandro Gutierrez-Perez
Alejandro Gutiérrez-Pérez

With this standing feature, the College of Engineering highlights the cooperative program, in which students fulfill six-month internships in fields of their own choosing to gain experience and to see how they like the work. But what exactly is that work? What does a co-op do all day? What are the tasks assigned? And what time is lunch? The fourth installment of A Day in the Life of a Co-op introduces BS student Alejandro Gutiérrez-Pérez. His co-op was completed here at CoE under the guidance of Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Dr. Jonathan Spanier.

Name: Alejandro Gutiérrez-Pérez
Class: Class of ’19, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics, BS
Co-op: CoE Mesoscale Materials Laboratory
Work Performed: Synthesized complex oxide thin films using ALD method in the lab and analyzed film thicknesses and crystallographic structures, and optical properties
When: Fall 2017 to Winter 2018

8:25 a.m. Catch train from home to Drexel campus, CoE laboratory. Grab coffee.
9 a.m. Arrive at Bossone. Turn on Shimadzu UV 2501-PC Spectrophotometer, a device which measures transmitted light through transparent samples. This technique is used to determine the optical absorption of photovoltaic materials. Device takes 10 minutes to warm up. Start reading abstracts/papers pertaining to the research. Once device is warmed up, calibrate device.
9:30 a.m. Measure transmitted light for both empty beam path and empty sample mount at beginning to account for daily changes in bulb output, environment, and dust on sample mount window. Take one of 16 perovskite film samples for separate research project; load and align sample to make sure it is incident to the beam path. One scan takes about five minutes. After, transfer data to Python and, using a script, extract absorption spectra based on the transmitted light and the thickness of the sample. About 10 minutes per measurement. Apply this new data to a PowerPoint presentation to show weekly progress.
10:30 a.m. Log onto Rigaku X-Ray Diffractometer, calibrate. Measure film sample thickness using X-ray reflectivity (takes 10 mins. per sample) and determine the lattice parameters (takes 40 mins. per sample). Able to do two samples a day. Work until noon.
12 Noon Lunch; Cucina Zapata food truck for a Thai Short Rib Burrito. (Tip for readers: burritos run out quickly, so pre-order early.)
1 p.m. Read more research articles, highlight relevant information.
2 p.m. Process measured data and compare to published work; look for differences and similarities between what’s collected and what others have done. Note whether qualitative or quantitative comparisons were needed.
3 p.m. Work on the PowerPoint presentation.
3:30 p.m. Twenty-minute break to grab another cup of coffee near Dr. Spanier’s office to bounce ideas off of him.
4 p.m. Go through emails, compose emails on lab progress to Dr. Spanier and to post-doc mentor.
5 p.m. (or so) Finish for the day. Work on calligraphy, go to Whole Foods to pick up dinner.

Takeaway: “Being a scientist in a fundamental research group as opposed to an engineer was an interesting experience for me. If you’re an engineer, your intent is to build something and meet specs and improve on it. But as a scientist, you ask questions and say, ‘I don’t know how it’s going to react. I have an idea, and this is going to push us in that direction, but I don’t know.’ Not having that same sense of urgency allowed me to explore new routes without being out of line with what the principal investigator or mentor wanted. This lab gave me the perspective of looking at things differently each time.”