Heena's Cool Summer Internship


Heena Mutha, 2010, mechanical engineering

Job: National Renewable Energy Laboratory SULI intern
(Summer Undergraduate Learning Internship) sponsored by the Department of

It's a little before midnight on a Friday. At Olin, that
would mean hanging out in a suite, probably watching a movie or just joking
around. But in Boulder, CO I am waking up to meet one of the biggest challenges
I have ever faced: climbing a 14,000+ foot mountain (14er). Longs Peak is a
15 mile roundtrip hike with a mile high elevation gain -usually something
people climb over the course of a couple days. 
My fellow interns and I decide to marathon it, hitting the trail at 2 AM
with a goal of summiting by 9 or 10 AM.

I travel the first few miles
by headlamp. As we ascend switchback after switchback in the darkness my
friends and I chat about our work at the Department
of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab
(NREL). I tell them about my
project: setting up and running a full modal test on a research wind turbine.
Basically, I got to spend some of my summer using extremely large forces (800 pounds!)
to push around a turbine. One friend is spending 10 weeks considering what it
would take to create a zero energy community (analyzing energy consumption in
transportation, buildings, food processing, etc.). Another hiker talks about her
experiments studying enzymatic breakdown of the starches within the waste parts
of corn for fuel. I love talking about our projects and how our projects will
help build a sustainable fuel economy. Around NREL there's a lot of hope and
passion for the work we do.

Pushing along, we reach the boulder
in time to get our first glimpse of the summit just as the sun is
rising. The Colorado
doesn't do it justice. We breakfast at the keyhole
with the morning sunshine falling over the peaks of the Rockies that surround
us. Even with the throngs of hikers around me, this place is one of the most
pristine I have ever seen. But we keep moving; the hardest part is just
beginning. This last mile or so is nearly vertical with a couple of traverses
along narrow cliff edges. On all fours, I ascend the trough,
traverse the narrows,
and arduously climb the homestretch
to the peak. Exhausted, I look around the summit and find that I am greeted by
close to 20 fellow interns! While the view from the top should be the main
event, the NREL summer crew quickly becomes the big attraction!

Before this summer, I would never have dreamed
of climbing a 14er (I grew up in the flatlands of the Midwest). Now I can't
wait to do it again! The combination of working at NREL, the thrill of being
part of such a vibrant intern group, set in the gorgeous backdrop of the Rocky
Mountains and Boulder, CO made for the most awesome summer ever!

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