My Internship at Tesla Motors

Name: Olubunmi Popoola

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Home town: Lagos, Nigeria

Where did you intern? With the Battery Safety and R&D team at Tesla Motors Palo Alto, California. Located on the Stanford University campus, the Tesla headquarters is surrounded by California’s beaches, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and, of course, the beautifully crafted Tesla Model S and Model X fully electric cars. I made history as part of the Tesla team for the newly released Model 3.

What did you do there? The Battery Safety R&D group at Tesla had an ongoing project to improve the design of lithium ion cells (batteries).

I attended lectures, workshops and presentations by NASA, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Tesla and Elon Musk. My internship involved high-precision machine shops and tooling, laser welding, high temperature pressure transducers, flame resolution thermal imaging cameras, Matlab and a lot of fireworks and explosions at a lab nicknamed “The Bunker.”

How did the work you do connect back to your coursework? Similar to what I spent my summer working on at Tesla, my work at FIU involved experimental and numerical investigation into high temperature and pressure phenomenon. The work at Tesla, however, involved significantly more volatile extremes that require a unique methodology. Tesla provided me with knowledge on improved lab techniques and state-of-the-art instrumentation. 

What was the coolest thing about your experience? Many, many cool things … standing shoulder to shoulder with 450 students students from MIT, Harvard, UC Berkley, Stanford, and other ivy league colleges – I was excited to represent FIU. Also cool: being involved in groundbreaking empirical contributions to the fundamental understanding of thermal runaway, which occurs in situations where an increase in battery temperature could lead to a destructive result.

Two of the experimental rigs I designed were used for actual process improvement at Tesla. I enjoyed BlackFest, a music festival at Stanford; I traveled to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bissau Baobab Village; and I went whale watching. If I had to choose the coolest thing, I’d say it was being part of a group of people passionately driven by excellence at Tesla.

What did you learn about yourself? FIU is as good as any ivy league school, and our emphasis on understanding the fundamentals of a subject matter helps to develop solutions to practical problems. I also learned I’m not as effective a communicator as I could be, and effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills are very essential in the workplace.

What advice do you have for others just starting the internship process? Effective workplace communication is important in companies with workplace diversity. Good communication skills help to reduce the language and cultural barriers.