When chemistry student Fadilah Ibrahim stepped foot into her research space at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), she had no idea the impact the experience would have on her.
The Earlham College undergraduate applied to the Oak Ridge Science Semester (ORSS) to explore different areas within her field. Through her research project, she was able to do just that. The ORSS allows students to experience a professional research environment by joining ongoing research projects at ORNL while participating in weekly interdisciplinary seminars.
Alongside her mentor in the Materials Science and Technology division, Chinthaka Silva, Ph.D., Ibrahim researched the effects of differing hydrogen concentrations on Zircaloy-4, a solid solution of zirconium and several other metals. She created reactions and analyzed the samples using techniques, such as X-Ray Powder Diffraction, Scanning Electron Microscopy and Tensile Experiments.
“The purpose of this research was to understand the properties of the Zircaloy-4 and how these properties were affected when exposed to different conditions (pressure, temperature, radiation, etc.),” Ibrahim explained. “This research was part of a bigger project by my mentor and would add to the current information available on this unique alloy.”
Zirconium alloys are of high interest because of their unique properties and frequent use in nuclear technologies.
“My mentor allowed me to complete important tasks independently,” Ibrahim said. “I played a substantial role in the project and had the opportunity to partake in every part of the process from sample preparation to analysis and reports.”
Though she entered the program unsure of her future educational and career goals, Ibrahim quickly developed a passion for her research and a desire to pursue a doctoral degree in the subject.
“The skills I gained from this experience are invaluable to me, and I am going to utilize them on my path to pursuing a Ph.D. in materials science,” Ibrahim explained. “I can now boast my ability to use state-of-the-art instruments, such as the Scanning Electron Microscope and the X-Ray Powder Diffractometer, which are important in executing sophisticated research projects in materials science.”
After her participation in the ORSS, Ibrahim returned to Earlham College to continue her undergraduate degree. She considers her time at ORNL valuable as she was able to affirm her educational plans for the future while learning techniques that would prove beneficial in various research settings.
“Not only did I gain many skills, but I also developed as a scientist. I have become more confident as a researcher and realized how important research is to me,” Ibrahim said. “This experience also aided in clarifying my goals for the future. If given the opportunity, I would definitely do it again.”
The ORSS is administered by Denison University and is recognized by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) and the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA).