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Catching up with Sierra Astle

You’ve heard all about their time with the City Semester Pittsburgh program, now catch up with some of our alums and find out what they’ve been up to since they completed the program and how City Semester has impacted their future so far.

Sierra in the forest Name: Sierra Astle
Anticipated Graduation: 2023
Degree: Materials Science and Engineering
City Semester Date: Summer 2020
Internship Partner: The Pennsylvania Solar Center

Where You Are Now

Sierra is a materials physics intern at Sandia National Laboratories.

What kind of work do you do?

I grow epitaxial thin film high entropy oxides and Ruddlesden-Popper type perovskites using pulsed laser deposition. These materials have a potential use as superconductors and have fascinating electronic properties depending on how they are doped. Currently my research is doping them with different rare earths from the lanthanide series.

What does your day-to-day look like?

Immediately when I get into work, I go to extract my sample which I typically leave overnight. I then spend the morning analyzing data and comparing to values in literature. In the afternoon, I set up a run on our pulsed laser deposition instrument, which is how I grow new samples. I let that run, and then set it up to be characterized overnight for its structural properties. Then I repeat that cycle the next day!

What is your biggest professional accomplishment so far?

My biggest professional accomplishment so far would probably be either working for a national laboratory or submitting my research for publication.

Your Time with City Semester

What was the biggest thing you learned during your time with City Semester?

Urban sustainability is directly intertwined with the people who live in a city. From the very beginning stages of a project, through every single step taken towards its completion, it is paramount that the people who are going to be affected by it get to have a say in how it is done. We saw countless examples of cities collaborating with their citizens toward a wonderful end, and we also saw the opposite, cities taking action against the will of their people and impacting public health, economy, or happiness negatively.

Which topic during the urban sustainability class did you enjoy learning about most?

I enjoyed learning about the impact of roads and transportation on the sustainability of a city! It is common sense that more roads equal more cars and more emissions, but I did not know that if a city is not walkable, that lowers public health, blocks access to certain areas of the city without a car, and unintentionally creates food deserts and other undesirable effects.

How did your internship prepare you for where you are now?

Since my internship, I take more care to think about the broad impacts of my research. I am currently working with theoretical hard science, and it can be easy to accidentally remove yourself from the things that matter when absorbed in a research project.

What advice would you give to a new student just starting with the program?

Ask plenty of questions and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! As with most things, you only get out what you put in, and so being involved and engaged will only help you in the long run.

Living The Sustainable Life

Sierra in the Mariposa Grove

When did sustainability first become important to you?

Sustainability was always important to me, as my family always went to national parks for vacation, and my parents stressed protecting nature. But oddly it intensified during the start of the pandemic, when masks began to be a pollution issue as well as a sanitary one.

What’s your favorite sustainability hack/tip?

Delete old emails/anything that takes up storage on the cloud that you don’t need anymore! It takes energy to keep those external servers cool, and by deleting your old digital footprint you free up some of those servers.

Fast Facts

Last book you read?

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Favorite Penn State memory?

It’s not one specific favorite, but I always enjoy any visit to The Arboretum at Penn State!

If you were a plant/flower, what would you be?

I would be a pine tree.

Favorite Instagram account to follow?

Anything with cute cats or dogs!

Best Creamery ice cream flavor?

Bittersweet mint!

You can find Sierra on Instagram: @sierraa477

Check out the rest of our Catching up with City Semester Alums series!