William & Mary

Intriguing internships: Laboratory guru at the Applied Research Center

  • At the ARC:
    At the ARC:  Ben Kincaid looks at a three dimensional profile of the wing scales on a butterfly on the Hirox digital microscope at the Applied Research Center.  Photo by Song Vick
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Many William & Mary undergraduate and graduate students take advantage of the summer months to broaden their skills and gain experience in their chosen fields through internships. This story is the seventh in a series exploring some of the intriguing internships that students are engaged in this summer. — Ed.

Ben Kincaid ’17 spent his summer as a lab aide in William & Mary’s Applied Research Center. It’s a paid position that’s tailor-made for a physics student.

The ARC is a collaborative facility in Newport News whose members also include Christopher Newport University, Old Dominion University and Norfolk State University. Scientists go to the ARC to use the facilities in its 27 state-of-the-art labs. Researchers new to the ARC labs are very likely to be introduced to the instrument they need by Ben Kincaid.

“I’m trained with almost all the systems here. For instance, we have a tabletop surface electron microscope. I’m trained how to use that. I help people who have never used it before,” Kincaid said. “I show them how to use it and I help them use it if they don’t have an easy time with it.”

Kincaid came to William & Mary as a transfer student after completing the two-year science program at Thomas Nelson Community College. Bill Cooke, professor of physics at William & Mary, introduced Kincaid to Amy Wilkerson, the manager of the ARC labs. Wilkerson was looking for a replacement for the departing Nick Moore, who started at the ARC in high school and stayed for eight years.

Kincaid started on June 1 and began shadowing Moore, learning how to operate a wide range of laboratory instruments and getting a handle on a seemingly endless list of miscellaneous duties: conducting mandatory fire and safety checks, auditing gases, keeping inventory, maintaining records. He hit the ground running.

“In the first month, I was taught how to do most things,” he said. “Two weeks after that, I was responsible for everything the previous lab aide had to do. ”

The life of a lab aide is challenging, but has a lot of variety. Kincaid says that he’s most often working on the ARC’s Hirox microscope, a software digital instrument that offers a number of functions and capabilities. After William & Mary, Kincaid plans to go to graduate school in physics and he’s aware that his position at the ARC will help him.

“I learned how to operate all kinds of high-tech machinery that’s used in research. We have graduate students coming in here pretty much every day to use our facilities,” he said. “When I’m a graduate student, knowing how to use these instruments will really help me. More than that, I get to see actual physics being carried out in experiments.”

Kincaid says he enjoys every aspect of ARC life. “It’s great,” he said. “Amy’s a great boss, especially compared to my old bosses.” However, there is one duty he likes above all of the others.

“Refilling liquid nitrogen dewars,” he said. “It’s always fun to work with liquid nitrogen, but when you’re actually filling them, there’s a lot of cold vapor that rises up. And when it’s really hot outside, you kinda cool down a little bit.”