August 1, 2014
Today is my last day working at the Lab in conjunction with the Cal Energy Corps, and I’m a bit sad, because this has been an amazing experience. LBL has a culture unlike any other. Especially within my group, it is such a welcoming, exciting, collaborative, and diverse environment. I’ve never worked in a place like this before, and I think now I’m spoiled because I know how great a working environment can actually be.
My last week has been busy, trying to get everything wrapped up and finished before leaving. I have managed to collaborate with Caroline well enough to get her new tool incorporated into the user interface, despite our nine hour time difference. Basically the two tools that I’ve added to the user interface this week and last were tools to filter and perform statistical analysis on files from our data source, the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS). The NHTS is a large data set that represents people’s driving behavior. A bunch of drivers across the nation were tracked to record when they were driving, where they were driving, etc. We use this data to help represent vehicle usage when we run V2G-Sim simulations, so that it’s as accurate as possible.
I’ve done my best to get the User Guide as up-to-date with the current state of the user interface as I can, and I’ve been adding content to the Developer Wiki as things come to mind. I’ve also taken a bunch of screen captures of the work that I’ve done here so I have something to put on my poster for the symposium that will be happening in the fall.
There has been a bit of fun this week as well: on Wednesday the Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) had its annual picnic. It was in Tilden Park, during the lunch hour, so we all carpooled up there and the lunch was catered by Top Dog. Miraculously, it was a sunny (perhaps even hot) day in the Berkeley hills, perfect for a picnic. Fun times with delicious food and faces both familiar and new.
As sad as I am to say goodbye to all of the friends I have made at the lab this summer, there is good news. My advisor and I got along so well, I am going to come back to work with the Grid Integration Group again during the fall semester! I will be working on a more research-oriented project, as opposed to the purely coding/software-development work that I’m doing now, so I’m excited to have that different experience.
Looking back on these past eleven weeks, I know that I’ve accomplished a lot. There is now a fairly sophisticated user interface for V2G-Sim, where there wasn’t before. There’s a website to represent V2G-Sim to the public, and a Wiki and User Guide for those who pick up this project where I left off. I’ve also learned an incredible amount. About electric vehicles, about research, about LBL, about myself, and so many other things. I have no doubt that this experience will uniquely affect my future, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store. Thank you, Cal Energy Corps, for giving me this amazing opportunity.
And thanks if there’s anyone out there who actually reads these.
July 25, 2014
Hello again! Next week will be my last week here at the Lab, and I will be sad to leave. In the past two weeks, as always is the case, I have continued to improve and add new features to the V2G-Sim user interface. By now, it is a fairly sophisticated tool, and I am happy with the way it has turned out so far. This week my advisor gave me two big new features to add, so I’ll be trying to get all the kinks worked out next week. My advisor’s going to be in Toronto all next week (3 hrs ahead), and Caroline is back in France (9 hrs ahead), so collaboration is a bit difficult right now. Hopefully I can make it work.
I have made much progress on the website. I designed the whole thing on a hosting platform called Squarespace, but then we found out that we needed to be using Google sites. My advisor and I worked together to make the Google site look as similar as possible to the Squarespace site, and then I spent last week moving all the content over. The structure is completely set up, so all that’s left now is for my advisor to write the content to be displayed on the website.
I’m also trying to finish writing the User Guide and Developer Wiki before I wrap up my work here. The User Guide is nearing completion, but it’s a bit of an uphill battle because as I write the instructions, I am changing the layout of the user interface and improving functionality. So the User Guide constantly needs to be updated, but the basic instructions are there. I’ve been spent a lot of time creating user interfaces (at this internship and in the past) so I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with all the little quirks and best-practices that are second nature to me now, in order to record them in the Developer Wiki. This way I can try and keep the user interface consistent when the next person works on developing it after I leave.
I’ve also had a bit of fun: as Jeanine mentioned in her latest blog , last week we went on a tour of the Molecular Foundry and the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM) together. We were the only two interns who were able to make it for the tour, but we had a great time. Basically, the Molecular Foundry and NCEM is where all the nanoscience happens at LBL. The nano-particles/-materials are made at the Molecular Foundry and then they are examined using the powerful microsopes at NCEM. In the Molecular Foundry we were able to look through windows into the different labs and clean rooms and watch the scientists hard at work. Both our tour guides were very enthusiastic and helpful, and I learned a lot. We were able to go inside the cage of one of NCEM’s two aberration-corrected (scanning) transmission electron microscopes (TEAM), which are the most powerful microscopes they have. Many (if not all) of the microscopes at NCEM are so sensitive that even talking can disrupt the measurements. We were only able to go inside the cage of TEAM I because they weren’t actively taking data at that time. Our tour guide said that if we looked at the log from the microscope, we would see a spike in the data just caused by our presence in the cage (our body heat). It is astounding how powerful these instruments are.
Two views of the LIBRA (scanning) transmission electron microscope
View of TEAM I from inside the cage- it’s very tall
July 11, 2014
I have less than a month left of my internship here at LBNL! What a crazy thought. It seems like the weeks have just flown by. At the beginning of last week I had to give a presentation on my background and research interests at our bi-weekly group meeting. The presentation only had to be 2 or 3 minutes, but I was nervous because I am one of the youngest members of our group, and I have little research experience (compared to the Masters students, PhD students, and post-docs). I just talked a bit about where I’m from, what I do at Cal, and what I’ve been doing here at LBNL.
Everyone in the lab is still buzzing about the World Cup. Round of 16 was an exciting one. Sometimes we all take the shuttle down the hill and watch the match at La Val’s while we eat lunch. On the day of the USA vs. Belgium match, there may or may not have been a conference room in our building with the match projected on the wall. Surprisingly, I don’t think there was anyone from Belgium in the office, so everyone in the conference room was rooting for the USA team together. I made it up there to watch the disappointing last minutes of the game with the large group assembled. But congrats to Tim Howard, who was an outstanding goalie for the whole match.
Hoping for a win for team USA
I am still continuing my work on improving and adding features to the V2G-Sim user interface. I started work on the website for V2G-Sim, and that is progressing well. There is a lot of information that we need to get out there, and organizing it and structuring it will be my challenge, I believe. I have also started writing a user guide, to help people figure out how to work through the user interface to accomplish what they want. That work is a bit tedious, but straight-forward and easy to accomplish, which is sometimes a nice change of pace. I am also developing a wiki for the developers and researchers working with V2G-Sim so that I can share tips regarding the work I’ve been doing, and hopefully others will contribute as well. The idea is to effectively communicate helpful information and avoid duplication of effort.
In other exciting news at the lab, the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new FLEXLAB, which is right outside our building (Building 90), was this week. [News article: Department of Energy’s FLEXLAB Opens Testbeds to Drive Dramatic Increase in Building Efficiency] The FLEXLAB is “world’s most advanced energy efficiency test bed for buildings”. The building is on a circular test bed that can rotate, which is very exciting, though I have never seen it rotate in person.
More info on the FLEXLAB here: http://flexlab.lbl.gov/
The new FLEXLAB
June 27, 2014
Things have been, in some ways, rather less exciting around the lab than in previous weeks. I haven’t taken any more tours or attended any more lectures. My supervisor left this Wednesday for roughly the next two weeks. I have a good amount of work to tackle while he’s gone, thankfully. There are three of us working on the same project (V2G-Sim) right now: my boss, me, and a PhD student at Cal who is originally from France, Caroline Le Floch. But since our supervisor is gone, Caroline, with whom I share a cubicle, is spending most of her time on campus at Cal working on a different project with her PhD advisor.
My work has been generally the same. I am still improving the user interface for V2G-Sim. I have been fine-tuning it, working out bugs, and adding new features as we think more carefully about what variety of tasks a user might want to be able to perform. One challenge has been the fact that I’m designing the user interface on my own computer, but when I’ve tried to use it on other computers, the formatting is wrong. I’ve been trying to adjust the formatting to make it more flexible, but it’s difficult to test because I have to bother my supervisor or Caroline in order to see what it looks like – difficult when they are both out of the office. My next task is to design a website for V2G-Sim. I have bit of experience programming/designing web applications, but I’ve never designed a website before, so I’m interested and excited to start that project.
In other ways, things have been exciting lately in the Grid Integration Group. Last week we got three new undergraduate interns (especially exciting for me because now I’m not the only one!) and a student from Iran, and this week we were joined by a PhD student from France (not Caroline) and a visiting researcher from Spain. We also said goodbye to one affiliate, who returned to Denmark, and one student, who returned to Germany. Our administrative assistant said there’s around 16 different countries represented in our group of about 30 staff. [One side effect of this is that I’m having to get more interested in the World Cup, because it is practically all anyone in the office talks about.]
I know that the majority of my fellow Cal Energy Corps interns are working abroad, and one might think that a posting in Berkeley is significantly less exciting, but I’m very happy that I am surrounded by such amazing cultural diversity. I can learn about many different cultures from the comfort of my desk here; I’m journeying around the world without even having to find my passport.
June 13, 2014
Work has really been getting underway in the past couple weeks. After all the background reading of my first two weeks, I was finally able to put my newfound knowledge to work. My first task was to create a user interface for the V2G- Sim software that I described last time. When I first got the code, it was a powerful simulation tool that wasn’t very user friendly.
One obstacle for me was that all of the V2G-Sim code is written in Matlab, and I have no previous experience coding in Matlab. Thankfully, my last internship dealt with software development exclusively, mostly in C#, and I did work very similar to this task, so the shift to Matlab wasn’t too difficult. I started by using the Matlab graphic user interface (gui) tool, GUIDE, to help design the user interface. Basically, you add and position controls in a blank form and design it as you like. Then you can go the code file generated by GUIDE and write code to say what all those controls should do (e.g. what happens when you press the “Next” button).
I have had to get used to the different vocabulary and syntax of Matlab, but Google has been my closest friend the past two weeks because there is a lot of great Matlab documentation online. Coding is constant trial and error, and requires a lot of patience, but it feels great when you finally get a nasty problem worked out. I’m learning a lot, and when I take E7 in a couple semesters, I’m pretty sure it will be a piece of cake.
My boss, Sam, has also emphasized to me that LBNL has a great culture and is a really fascinating place to be and learn. To that end, I attended a couple of lectures at the lab. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at LBL is celebrating its 40th anniversary by sponsoring the Nobel Keynote Lecture Series, which is “a series of lectures describing the research behind four Nobel Prizes.” I attended a lecture given by George Smoot (2006 Nobel Prize in Physics) entitled “The Universe & Computers” that dealt primarily with research of the cosmic microwave background radiation. I also attended a lecture by Saul Perlmutter (2011 Nobel Prize in Physics) entitled “Data, Computation, and the Fate of the Universe” that discussed the accelerating expansion of the universe, and how his team worked to observe this. Astrophysics is one of my favorite subjects, and they were both great talks. [Video recordings of lectures + slides]
I also got put in touch with the Undergraduate Internship Coordinator at LBNL, and she was able to share with me all the interesting tours and lectures that my fellow undergrad interns are participating in. I was able to join her group and take tours of both the Advanced Light Source (ALS) here at LBNL, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing (NERSC) center in Oakland.
The tour of ALS was fascinating, and something that I’ve been really wanting to do. We had an amazing tour guide, Doug, the chemical safety officer for ALS, and we got a special treat because the ALS was shut down for regular maintenance, so we were able to walk through all the tunnels that are usually saturated with dangerous radiation. It was so exciting to tour the facility and see how the synchrotron (electron accelerator) works, and see some of the variety of experiments that are being conducted there. [ALS website] The NERSC supercomputing facility was very impressive. It’s essentially a big room full of tons of tall black cabinets which house supercomputers. It’s very loud and cold in that room, which I wasn’t really expecting. We got to see the iconic mural on the Hopper supercomputer, and also the new Edison supercomputer. [NERSC website] Overall, my work here at LBNL is very exciting and I’m grateful to be in such a rich scientific environment.
Inside the tunnels of the ALS
One of the many impressive experiments being run off a beamline at ALS
The Hopper supercomputer
The new Edison supercomputer
May 30th, 2014
Lawrence Berkeley Lab. LBL. A name spoken with esteem and awe by those who live in its shadow, on the UC Berkeley campus. A Cal student often believes LBL is where the real science happens, where exciting research goes on every day and world class scientists are changing the world as we know it.
Such beliefs and a nebulous notion of its notoriety was all I had before starting work at LBL. After weeks of exchanging emails with the very helpful representatives of the Cal Energy Corps and Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute, along with my internship host at LBL, it had finally arrived: my first day. Having been given such a special opportunity by the Cal Energy Corps, I wanted to do well and make a good impression. Suffice to say, I was nervous.
But I arrived on my first day and was pleasantly surprised. I had been placed in the Vehicle Powertrain Research Program in the Grid Integration Group, working under Dr. Samveg Saxena. All my nervousness seemed to be unwarranted, as everyone I met on my first day was friendly and completely welcoming. My first activity on the job was attending a group meeting. It was pretty much an hour of twenty-or-so very smart people talking about things I had no comprehension of, but it was great to get a sense of the all the exciting research that is happening just in the Grid Integration Group. Another welcome surprise was the varied backgrounds of the group members. At the meeting, I got the impression that local scientists are more the exception than the norm, and a large number of those working in the group currently are visiting from other countries. It makes for a very diverse and lively work environment.
My first weeks have mainly consisted of completing basic training for new employees at the lab and reading lots of background information on the projects I’m going to be working on. Basically I will be working on investigating the impact of large-scale adoption of hybrid/ electric vehicles that will be happening in the near future. I will be splitting my time between working on V2G-Sim and advanced powertrains for China. V2G-Sim is simulation software that allows researchers to simulate the impact of large numbers of electric vehicles on the electric grid. Large growth in vehicle CO2 emissions is predicted for the near future, particularly from developing countries like China. We are working to quantify the magnitude of fuel savings from large-scale adoption of hybrid vehicles in China.
A couple of clarifications: Though I am working at Berkeley Lab, I am not working in a lab. I sit at a desk, in a cubicle. All of our work with hybrid/electric vehicles is through simulations. We do not have any actual vehicles. I just code at my computer. But there is something quite powerful and profound in the idea that such extensive work with vehicle powertrains can be done without ever needing to have a physical powertrain.
I’m happy that I’ve mostly finished my background catch-up, and I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into my actual assignments in the coming weeks. I’m enjoying absorbing the atmosphere of Berkeley Lab in general, and interacting with some of the world’s top scientists. Also, you can’t beat the view.
View from outside Building 90, where I work
P.S. Here are some links in case you are interested in reading more about our research: