Billy Ndengeyingoma, a junior in civil engineering, interned at the Néel Institute of the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Grenoble, France. The Institute is a vibrant multidisciplinary laboratory with more than fifteen teams working on projects ranging from condensed matter physics to chemistry and nanoengineering.
As part of the HelFA team (Helium, from Fundamental to Applications), Billy investigated the imbibition of liquid helium in silica aerogels. Imbibition refers to the suction- due to capillarity- of a liquid in a porous medium and is modeled by the Lucas-Washburn law. With cryogenic experiments and optical measurements, Billy aimed to determine whether the Lucas-Washburn equation holds in disordered porous media like aerogels and understand imbibition at the microscopic scale.
This MIT-France experience greatly contributed to Billy's professional and personal growth. The internship and the interactions with the researchers cleared up his confusion on the interplay between scientists and engineers. Scientists are naturally curious and wish to answer fundamental questions while engineers translate that conceptual understanding into practical uses. Also, the cultural richness of Europe will remain a source of inspiration for Billy: as centuries old Greek statues or modern architectural masterpieces by Le Corbusier can attest, the synergy of mens et manus truly has no limits!