Grace Clarke ’23

Atomic Machines, Berkeley, CA

I spent the past nine weeks of my summer interning at a new tech/engineering startup in Berkeley, called Atomic Machines, whose long-term vision is to propel the world to achieve atomically precise manufacturing in the near future. On a more immediate scale, they specialize in a novel process of fabricating MEMS devices (micro electromechanical systems).

Grace in the lab.
Visually assessing an organic solution near the fume hood.

When I started this past June, Atomic Machines had only 12 employees besides me, and I was one of just three women! I was hired as an intern to focus on chemistry and help develop experiment techniques for testing devices. Although I expected it to be a great opportunity to expand my knowledge and lab techniques, I was completely unprepared for just how deeply it would influence my career path and academic interests.

I went into the internship knowing I wanted to major in chemistry, but I had yet to find a real sense of passion or drive in any particular field. A big reason for this is that Covid-19 has greatly hindered my ability to spend time in the lab conducting experiments hands-on (which is a huge part of how I learn). Within my first day at Atomic Machines, I was researching and independently designing my own experiment. I knew right away that this was going to be a unique experience. I spent hours throughout the first two weeks reading old research papers on parameters for electrochemical deburring (ECD) to get inspiration for my experiment, and was testing out the potential procedures as I went to determine if they would work for our applications. I was given full creative freedom to find or develop the optimal procedure for ECD of the various metals we were using in our device, and by the end of the summer I was able to optimize some of their long-standing problem-cases.

In addition to my ECD experiments, I also worked on a slew of other smaller tasks, and in doing so became very confident in using over 10 complex laboratory machines. I also learned how to use 3D modeling software to design and manufacture unique components from scratch. One of the important values of Atomic Machines is fostering a maker-culture—meaning that whenever possible, making something yourself is better than buying it pre-made by someone else. This is completely in line with the larger vision of the company, and every employee genuinely seems committed to making this vision a reality.

I loved the energy of all my coworkers, and it didn’t take long for me to feel the same level of commitment to the company’s success. I also realized—after spending an entire summer working with engineers—that I am very interested in becoming a chemical engineer after college. I finally feel passionate about my future and the chemistry behind the work I’ve been doing. I have grown so much this summer as a person and a chemist, and I’m excited to continue studying chemistry in the two years to come. I am so beyond thankful.