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Jacob Sichlau '23
Physics major Jacob Sichlau ’23 interned this summer at Varian Medical Systems on the microwave ablation team. The experience confirmed his interest in pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering after Hamilton.   
What is microwave ablation?

Microwave ablation is the use of microwave radiation (frequencies between 300 Mhz and 300 Ghz) to ablate tumors within the body. The end of the ablation probe (basically a 20 cm long needle with a transmitter near the end) “cooks” the surrounding tissue, ideally encompassing the tumor with a spherical ablation area.

Did you come to Hamilton intending to major in physics?

I did plan on studying physics on a path toward engineering. Nothing has derailed that course, but Physics 190 with Professor Gordon Jones solidified my desire to stay within physics.

Did you have other experiences at Hamilton such as research or other internships that helped put you on this path?

I actually sought this internship out because of the lack of overlap with work I’ve done at Hamilton. Knowing that I want to go into mechanical engineering, I wanted an opportunity to develop some of the more technical engineering skills before entering a graduate program. However, much of the work I did involved 3D printing prototype parts, something that I had a good bit of experience from running a personal business before I came to Hamilton.

Engineering at Hamilton

Hamilton offers several dual degree programs (B.A. from Hamilton and B.S. from the engineering school) for students interested in engineering but who also want the benefits of a liberal arts education.

What were your responsibilities at Varian?

My biggest task was designing custom parts to hold the antennas and specimens in the bath. I was in charge of designing a wide array of 3D printed parts that can test various qualities of the device and other small parts. The biggest of these apparatuses was to affix the ablation probe above a temperature-controlled bath in which the ablation test specimens are held. This test apparatus is intended to test the qualitative performance of the device. Another apparatus was intended to give a quantitative evaluation of the probe performance with the S11 measurement. The S11 measurement tests how much of the microwave signal is reflected back into the probe, which also indicates the efficiency of the signal emitting system of the probe. Finally, there were a few other smaller parts to test pull-apart strength for magnets, store small parts, etc. 

I sourced materials to test Varian’s newest microwave ablation device. The testing consists of holding bovine organ samples in a temperature-controlled bath and inserting the ablation antenna to evaluate its effectiveness. I sourced the organs, thermometers, and various other odds-and-ends for the testing apparatus.  

I (also) worked on testing the resistance of fiberglass tubes that form the body of the ablation antenna to internal pressure buildup. This involved standardizing the test process among three different sites (Austin, Minneapolis, and Galway, Ireland) and then evaluating the tube failures to determine the potential risk to the product and patient.

(I also contributed to) revision of the emitting section of the antenna to make the assembly process simpler and improve the overall strength of the ablation antenna. I helped model and evaluate one of the potential solutions, portions of which were implemented into the device.

What did you learn this summer? About the subject, about yourself?

A lot of my learning was very technical, but I also learned a great deal about how the engineering process works in industry. Some of that was really exciting to see, like the design review process and the brainstorming that occurs when a problem is discovered. However, some other parts weren’t as fun, like the paperwork that goes into corporate quality standards and FDA regulations. I’m glad to have seen both these sides before fully starting my career, but my largest takeaway is that I enjoy the highs much more than I dislike the lows.

Did this internship reinforce your plans to go on for a master’s in mechanical engineering?

Yes, prior to this internship I was considering a few other fields of engineering for a master’s, but I asked for a lot of advice from my coworkers and the resounding answer was that it was best for me to pursue a master’s in ME. Not only does it best align with the engineering tasks I enjoy most, but it is also an incredibly versatile degree that can lead to a wide range of fields and roles.

Jacob Sichlau ’23

Major: Physics
Hometown: River Forest, Ill.
High School: Oak Park and Riover Forest High School

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