Silicon Valley Trip 2018 – Lawrence Berkeley National Labs

The 2019 EDI Fellows traveled to Silicon Valley to speak with experts about engineering, design, and innovation.  Here is Patrick McElroy to describe our fourth day. 

We started our day with a drive to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The bumpy, mountainside roads and the fog that enveloped everything beneath us made the ride pretty exciting. When we got to the lab, Dr. Call parked in our reserved spot (it even had his name on it!) and we started toward the Molecular Foundry.

 

For some background, the Berkeley National Lab is funded by the Department of Energy and is open to outside companies or organisations who want to use their resources to research their own personal projects. They have multiple buildings built to house different research tools, and the Molecular Foundry is used to study, build, and customize molecules at the nano-scale.

 

To introduce the concept to us, our guide showed us two vials – one of a reddish liquid and one of tiny golden blocks. According to her, the reddish liquid was actually also gold, just taken down to an extremely small scale. At this size, many materials like this gold begin to showcase extremely different properties. We heard about an example of this in the next building we went to.

 

Our guide explained to us that graphene, an one atom thick layer of carbon that falls under this classification of nano-materials, was studied at Berkeley for its amazing properties in many diverse fields of study. We even got to see a camera used to study these materials that could shoot at 1600 (1600!) frames per second.

 

After we were finished with our first tour, we went to the Advanced Light Source, or ALS, and got an up close look of the machine they use to accelerate electrons to almost the speed of light. After getting lunch at the lab, we went to our last spot – the Berkeley National Laboratory’s supercomputer. Named after famous scientists, these powerful computers can do the work most of our computers can do in 6 hours in less than 30 seconds. Our group got a personal tour of Cori, the latest of these supercomputers, as well as the older model named Edison.

 

A cancellation in our schedule left an empty block of time after Berkeley, so we decided to go to a park and throw around a frisbee. We were still free for the rest of the evening, so after getting in some quality frisbeeing, we drove to downtown San Francisco to “shop,” though only ice cream and milkshakes ended up being purchased (much to Dr. Call’s chagrin). On the way back, we finally ate at In and Out, which Kevin had been waiting for the entire trip. After a long day, we settled down for bed when we got back and saved our debrief for the next morning when, thankfully, we could wake up a little later.