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Home > News > Connected virtually, working globally: PEI engaged more than 100 undergraduates in virtual environmental internships for summer 2020

Connected virtually, working globally: PEI engaged more than 100 undergraduates in virtual environmental internships for summer 2020

September 9th, 2020
Princeton senior Ben Alessio had planned to spend his summer internship with the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) in the laboratory of Professor Howard Stone conducting experiments related to diffusiophoresis, an important process by which particles are transported through water. But when COVID-19 led to the suspension of campus operations, Alessio and Stone —Princeton’s Donald R. Dixon ’69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and PEI associated faculty— designed a virtual internship that contributed to an important advance in the Stone Lab’s work. Alessio, a physics major, worked from home integrating physical effects into a code that solves the system of partial differential equations that describe diffusiophoresis under various conditions. One physical effect — having many ions in the solute — had never been implemented before. “The theory behind this was published last year by a researcher in the group, but nobody had done a numerical investigation of the equations. When we saw results that matched the experiments, I was thrilled,” said Alessio, who previously held a PEI internship with the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in 2019. “Working remotely changed the course of my internship,” he said. “I’m not sure I would have accomplished the same thing with the computer modeling if I were on campus. I would say it was a fortunate result of having to go to computer work.” Alessio was one of more than 100 Princeton undergraduate students enrolled in PEI’s summer internship program this year who — despite transitioning to virtual internships due to the coronavirus — worked closely with noted faculty and other experts on research related to critical environmental topics. PEI supported 123 students from across the University in positions with Princeton faculty, researchers from other scientific enterprises, government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations and community groups. Their projects focused on global environmental challenges in the areas of policy and resilience, biodiversity and conservation, alternative energy, climate change, water, and human health. PEI interns for the summer of 2020 will present their research Sept. 18 during the annual Summer of Learning Symposium. Applications for the 2021 summer internships open Nov. 23.

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