The U.S. Naval Academy’s first African American female brigade commander, Midshipman 1st Class Sydney Barber, was an intern at Livermore during the summer of 2019, where she gained some of her first experience doing practical, lab-based science and contributed to ongoing research. Barber’s appointment as brigade commander for the 2021 spring semester was announced in November 2020.
Barber completed her LLNL internship under the Military Academic Research Associates (MARA) program, funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration under Military Academic Collaborations. She applied to work in the laboratory of Aleksandr Noy, senior research scientist in the Materials Sciences Division, who is exploring the application of carbon nanotube porins (CNTPs) to a variety of applications such as water filtration and biological sampling. There, Barber was assigned to work with visiting postdoctoral scholar Jacqueline Hicks of the University of Nottingham, who was developing CNTPs as diagnostic tools to measure cells’ responses to bacterial infections.
Barber’s was asked to develop a galvanic cell to allow the research team to place a pair of electrodes in close proximity to a single cell for taking measurements. “I was unfamiliar with bioelectrochemistry, so I spent my first week reading up on it and getting a crash course,” says Barber. “In my second week, I learned how to use SolidWorks, a 3D-solid modeling software used with 3D-manufacturing systems, as well as the systems themselves.” Over the seven weeks of her internship, Barber worked on designing and printing the device using the Laboratory’s additive manufacturing technology.
“My internship at Livermore was the first hands-on experience I had with my mechanical engineering major,” she says. “To actually have a research question before me required me to learn a lot quickly.” The experience also provided her academic career at the Naval Academy with a boost. When she returned to the Academy to start her third year, Barber was able to begin her senior capstone project, which is normally conducted during a student’s fourth year. The knowledge of how to use 3D printers and software that she gained during her Livermore internship not only allowed her to start her senior capstone research early, but to work on an additional project during her fourth year as well.
As Barber assumed her duties of brigade commander at the Naval Academy in 2021, she mused, “I received a lot of guidance and learned so much [during the internship]. It really harnessed my passion and set me up for further research.”