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A chemist in physics

Thanks to Fusenet scholarship, I had the opportunity to do an internship at ISTTOK, the tokamak machine located in Lisbon. At the beginning I was very scared from what I was supposed to do due to my previous background: I am chemical engineering and I had never worked with vacuum components before arriving at ISTTOK. My project goal was to study the wettability of stainless steel by liquid gallium and, in the first instance, a specific high-vacuum experimental device was meant to be constructed in order to carry out the studies. The initial worries had immediately overcome by my co-supervisor that helped me to construct the set-up and closed my gaps of knowledge explaining and repeating me how to proceed whenever I had doubts. After one month, I started feeling more comfortable with the concepts of “vacuum-leaks”, “gaskets” and how to mount them on a flange. It was a really satisfaction when the device started operating after all the issues we had to sort out!

The first drop of gallium

The second part of my project was focused on the exploitation of the experimental set-up: Gallium was melted and injected in the machine and the first droplet of gallium was finally deposited on the stainless steel sample! I remember that in the evening this event was celebrated with my lab mates with a pizza and some beers: after 5 months of struggling to achieve high vacuum and low contamination levels inside the device chamber, the really first droplet of gallium had to be celebrated in the best way! That day made me realise how amazing was the lab group we created: everyone was there with me, excited as much I was, to see the really first experimental result of the work! After this first droplet, the experiments went luckily as good as I hoped and we didn’t stumble on any other issues until the end of the work. Furthermore, the project pushed me to learn new useful programs and increased my ability to solve the problems that can arise along the work. At the end, I realised that the nuclear fusion field doesn’t need physicists or electrical engineers only but also materials and chemical engineers! Several studies have still to be carried out on the materials to be used as plasma facing component.

Beyond the work

Besides the scholastic and experimental aspects of my internship, the human and friendship component had a big role in the completely success of the whole experience. As I had already mentioned, I really have to say THANK YOU to all my lab mates that not only have welcomed me in the best way possible but had also been predisposed to make friends with me. They shared their hobbies and gave me the possibility to have amazing experiences that not all the Erasmus student have to possibility to live. Since the beginning, the closest brewery to the university became a fix appointment on Friday after a week of work and a place where to organize pizza-parties or share some nice food with the perfect “cerveja”. At the end of the internship, my gaps of knowledge in beer have also been filled. The farewell party in this brewery is one of my best memories and it will be always in my heart since it gave me the possibility to better discover the people with whom I had worked with for 8 months and to confirm how brilliant and great they are not only in the work environment but also in real life! Furthermore, I managed to try two new sports in Portugal, surf and crock-climbing. The first one is quite easy to experience, there are several options and discounts for Erasmus students, the second one is trickier to try but not with the lab team I had! The Sunday drive to climb made me appreciate the beauty of Portugal not only from the “ground level” but also from the “anchored to the top of a rock” level!

To sum up, thank you FuseNet to have sponsored this experience because it was amazing and fulfilling from the academic point of view and as a life and human experience itself….
…. And thank you to ISTTOK group. You are all gorgeous people.

- Caterina Cavallini