ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Chris Stevens loved science fairs as a kid – in third grade, he attached magnets to a skateboard and sneakers to create a new system for locking riders’ feet.
“Our whole idea was that you could teach people to skateboard by allowing them to hold onto the board better,” he explained. “Of course, magnets are not that strong.”
Though the project didn’t get off the ground, Stevens never lost his passion.
Now, over a decade later, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology undergraduate is tackling research with broader applications thanks to an internship with Sandia National Laboratories.
He spends weekends and school breaks assisting Sandia scientist Bernadette Hernandez-Sanchez, who develops novel materials that could be used as anti-corrosion coatings.
“Getting to work here helps me see what is going on in industry,” Stevens said Tuesday during a luncheon held at the Sandia-UNM Advanced Materials Laboratory to celebrate the internship program.
U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich attended in a show of support for education in science, technology, engineering and math – fields that are typically lucrative and stable.
Heinrich, an engineer by training, questioned the six interns about their projects and possible future applications in renewable energy and material science.
“I think that you are all at a place that is going to be really exciting in the acceleration of material technology and change over the next few years,” he said.
That acceleration and change means the interns’ skills are in high demand.
Sandia and its neighbor Los Alamos National Laboratory project that they will need to fill up to 5,000 jobs over the next five years, and Udall stressed that he hopes New Mexicans get many of them.
The Sandia internship program is important in that effort, Udall said, because it helps create a “jobs pipeline” between local universities and the lab.
“I feel like this is a very productive, good interaction,” he said.
Currently, about 2,400 UNM graduates and another 400 UNM students work at Sandia, which employs about 11,500 people in total and has a budget of close to $3 billion.
In 2015, UNM and Sandia signed a new memorandum of understanding to increase collaboration. The memorandum encourages exchanges and integration of researchers, faculty and students, sharing of offices and facilities and an overall increased presence on each other’s campuses, according to a Sandia news release.
For the past 14 years, UNM and Sandia have shared the 45,000-square-foot Advanced Materials Laboratory, which houses about 90 staff from the university, Sandia and private companies.