The MLEF is a highly competitive 10-week summer educational fellowship program for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors. MLEF is sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. Students are onsite at NETL researching for 9 weeks, followed by a 1-week technical forum at an offsite location.
The MLEF program was created in 1995 to improve opportunities for under-represented students in STEM fields and strengthen a diverse pipeline of future STEM professionals. The program provides participants the unique opportunity to gain direct research experience with fossil energy at various DOE national laboratories across the country. Participants gain insight into how DOE is working to meet the energy challenges of the future, including policy and regulation, project finance, and strategic performance measures.
Valen Ortiz de Zarate, a senior civil environmental engineering major at Carnegie Mellon University, trained in the use of the OLI Systems’ aqueous chemistry software (OLI Stream Analyzer). Ortiz de Zarate then used it to predict whether arsenic, mercury, nitrates, and selenium of several power plants were in the aqueous state or precipitated solid state, with the goal of informing the design of more cost effective processes to treat flue gas desulfurization (FGD) effluent before it is discharged to local waterways.
“I found out that having an FGD treatment system in place will prevent plants from discharging effluents that have these pollutants,” she explained. “Any sort of pollutant left in the waters will not only hurt animals and the ecosystem, but that water has to be treated for drinking. Any pollutants such as mercury and arsenic that’s entering our waterways will be harmful if it’s not treated correctly.”
Damian Archer, an earth science and policy major at Pennsylvania State University from Philadelphia, investigated the impact that legacy natural gas infrastructure has on communities throughout the summer. He said the internship program had a lot to offer even in a virtual setting and encouraged fellow students interested in MLEF to pursue it.
“The most valuable part of this experience has been putting to action some of the networking tips I accumulated as well as tapping into the experiences of other people on the team about how they were able to secure a job with DOE,” he said. “For those considering or going into the MLEF, I would say that if you are looking for a chance to get real-life experience while being mentored by top professionals in their field, then pursing this opportunity will exceed your expectations. Even while virtual, I would not have learned some of the skills I have acquired through the MLEF in my undergraduate career.”
Maia Zhang is studying mathematics and French at Cornell University. Her research project during MLEF involved the Lab’s CT scanner and flow facility. Under the guidance of her mentor, Dustin Crandall, Zhang examined multi-scale images of rocks using various machine learning techniques to link small scale features to observed flow parameters obtained from larger samples. She said her experience left an impact regarding career paths after school.
“A valuable takeaway (hard to say just one) was that I feel I have more direction in what I want to pursue for higher education and in my career,” she said. “This was a first chance to do real research and I no longer feel unprepared to go for it in the future! I didn’t have clear goals before this program, but now more than ever, I feel like I want to continue researching in energy and possibly with the DOE. First, though, I plan to get a masters (at least) in geology/geosciences.”
Check out our past MLEF overview videos: