Venezuelan student spends summer in Penn State Berks engineering labs

September 02, 2008

Barbara Lombardi, a materials engineering major at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela, is completing her summer internship at Penn State Berks, where she is working in the campus' engineering laboratories. The internship began on June 7 and will conclude on Sept. 9.

During the internship, Lombardi worked with ceramic gas sensors that detect the presence of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The goal was to learn how sensors are integrated into a system and to investigate the materials physics behind how the sensors operate and how they convert a physical parameter into an electronically measurable property.

Lombardi worked under the supervision of Dale Litwhiler, associate professor of electrical engineering at Penn State Berks. Litwhiler purchased the actual sensors and then he and Lombardi built circuits and developed software to control data acquisition equipment to create gas detection systems.

When asked about the practical applications of the internship, Lombardi explained, "This information is useful for monitoring the quality of air and it is less expensive because we construct it. If Professor Litwhiler can build a network of sensors, he can install them in all the classrooms at the college to monitor air quality."

During the internship, the role of teacher and student were reversed when Lombardi taught Litwhiler about ceramic gas sensors.

"I wasn't as familiar with the material physics of gas sensors, but through her work, she was able to explain to me how these devices work," commented Litwhiler. "It was a good way to share knowledge."

Litwhiler and Lombardi had a limited budget, so they improvised on how they tested the sensors, building test chambers out of coffee cans. They used their breath to test for carbon dioxide and car exhaust to test for carbon monoxide.

After Lombardi returns to Venezuela, she will complete her studies and plans to graduate in January. She plans to either take a job in industry or pursue post graduate study in advanced ceramics, possibly in Italy where she has family.

When asked why she decided to travel all the way to Penn State Berks, Lombardi said, "I wanted to improve my English and have the opportunity to conduct research. In the school I attend in Venezuela, they do not do much research."

The internship also had benefits for the campus. Litwhiler will be implementing the air quality monitoring system on a trial basis in some of his classrooms this semester.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010