Michael Sherburne: future electrical engineer

sherburne (Download Image) Michael Douglas Sherburne is spending his summer at the Laboratory working on an early warning system for capacitors undergoing failure. Photo by Jason Laurea/LLNL

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of articles highlighting the diverse group of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory summer students.


Meet: Michael Sherburne, future electrical engineer

Hometown:  Burke, Virginia

University/educational background: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Major: Electrical Engineering

Graduation year: 2018 (five-year program)

What interested you in pursuing a summer internship at the Laboratory?

Our Air Force ROTC cadre distributed a flier via email and it said we can do cool research. I started to find out more about the Lab and applied. I initially had interest in applying for this opportunity due to the pulsed power work I am doing with my undergraduate research at Virginia Tech in plasma propulsion and fusion. 

What are you working on at the Laboratory?

I am working on an early warning system for capacitors undergoing failure, before they become a major issue for the National Ignition Facility. It uses a radio frequency sensor that measures the capacitance, or how much charge a capacitor can hold. It checks to see if the capacitance changes, because any changes could be an indicator that the capacitor is starting to become unstable.

What do you enjoy most about interning at the Laboratory?

When I first started interning at the Laboratory, I noticed how the environment is a college campus with a military-like atmosphere. Everyone really cares about each other here and looks out for their safety. I also am really impressed by how much the supervisors care about their employees' well-being and professional growth. On top of that, being able to talk to other employees at the Laboratory to exchange ideas, and always learn something new every day.

What have you learned (or are learning) that has made a difference to you?

Honestly, I have learned many critical engineering skills that will never be taught at university. There are too many to list, but I will talk about a few. I have been learning Creo Parametric 2.0 CAD software, which has made it a lot easier to design solutions, along with learning how to simulate large-scale schematics on LTSpice, and learning from our technicians how to do surface-mount device soldering and professional soldering methods.

Where do you see yourself after graduation? What is your dream job?

I hope to commission into the USAF as a 2nd lieutenant and work as a research officer after graduation, hopefully related DOE work. I am looking at the Air Force Institute of Technology for graduate school. Afterward, I can see myself working back at LLNL, and may someday start my own engineering business. I ultimately have a long-term desire in running for a political office later on, since engineers and scientists are underrepresented in Congress, which affects all of our funding and our ability to be the cutting-edge in research.

Who/what has inspired you to pursue an education and career in a STEM field?

My brother, Matthew Sherburne, who is an electrical engineer, is my biggest inspiration for getting me interested in electrical engineering at an early age, and I solidified that interest when competing at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) during my senior year of high school. It was the interaction with aspiring scientists, doctors and engineers all over the world that share the same passion for solving the world’s problems that really motivated me in pursuing engineering.

What has been your biggest challenge to overcome?

I would say in 10th grade when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and my brother was deployed overseas at the same time. I had to really dig deep to continue to do well in school while witnessing the effects of chemo on a loved one. This gave me an intense motivation to always put my 110 percent to hopefully make the world a better place.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment so far?

I have to say leading my Society of American Military Engineers Chapter at Virginia Tech as president to earn distinguished chapter this year. It required tapping into everyone’s strengths and knowing their weaknesses, and a lot of flexibility on my part. Seeing what everyone is able to accomplish as a team to finish interdisciplinary engineering tasks had to be the coolest thing to witness.

As a college student, what is the most important lesson you have learned?

My advice would be to take care of your people while in a leadership position -- it will take you far. This also applies to classes; as the saying goes "cooperate and graduate." You might learn new ideas and opportunities available as well from all the interaction.

What advice would you give a high school student?

There is no such thing as impossible, even if the professionals do not support it. Reach out to mentors in the fields that interest you, and immerse yourself into whatever you want to accomplish. Broaden yourself to figure out what you want to do, since it becomes harder to change disciplines once in college. I know across the nation not all students have the same access to the needed resources. The most important thing is the values that you live every day in high school that you can carry into the work force.


What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?

Taking photographs of the world around has always been a great hobby, along with being able to express emotions through my violin. I also love running, and intense long-night video game sessions, usually resulting in the need for a lot of coffee the next morning. I also love to travel the world, and learn about other cultures. Anthropology has been a fascination of mine and helps me understand others better.

What is next for you/what are you looking forward to?

After this summer, I am looking forward to finishing my last year in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, and continuing my undergraduate research. I am very excited to be near family again after being away from them for three months.