News Release

Release Date: February 12, 2018

NETL's World-Class Mentors Help Launch Careers of Next-Generation Researchers

Whether designing computer models for a new combustion technology or sensors to ensure electric grid reliability, researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) consistently stand at the vanguard of innovation, taking steps each day to enhance the nation’s energy foundation. Their research expertise has helped usher in a new era of U.S. energy dominance, but this position can only be sustained by ensuring that new researchers are prepared to solve the increasingly complex energy demands of the nation.
Mentorship helps build a bridge between today’s innovators and tomorrow’s visionaries, and the Laboratory offers a wide range of Graduate Education Programs for the next generation to participate in energy-related research under the guidance of world-class NETL mentors. One particularly effective example of these programs is the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) educational program, which comprises three highly competitive classes of internships, fellowships, and research opportunities based on educational level. These opportunities are known as the Professional Internship Program, Postgraduate Research Program, and Faculty Research Participation Program.

Since its inception, the ORISE program at NETL has stewarded hundreds of bright students to rewarding careers in the private sector, academia, federal government and national labs. In fact, many of NETL’s top researchers, both federal and contractor, got their start from participation in an ORISE program. During any year, more than a hundred ORISE research associates can be found collaborating alongside their NETL mentors on a wide array of research projects from advancing combustion technology to exploring new computational tools.

Katherine Jones

Katherine Jones joined the ORISE program in December 2016 after completing her master’s degree in geography at Oregon State University. Jones participates in the Geoscience Analysis, Interpretation and Assessment (GAIA) lab at NETL’s Albany, Oregon, site, where she studies risk assessment and subsequent tool development for carbon capture and storage systems.

She finds conducting her research in the GAIA lab unique and rewarding. “My mentor, Jennifer Bauer, cultivates a collaborative environment by encouraging individuals to discover and share new research interests,” Jones said. “I have autonomy to investigate topics I find important; Jen then provides guidance by helping to discover the synergies between personal research interests and existing project goals within our team.”

William “Trey” Benincosa

William “Trey” Benincosa , a Ph.D. candidate at West Virginia University (WVU), began his research at NETL’s Morgantown site in August 2015.  At the Lab, he focuses on advancing research on a potentially game-changing approach for capturing carbon dioxide during fossil fuel combustion. The technology is called chemical looping combustion (CLC), and Benincosa’s investigations as an ORISE research associate at NETL is helping to bring CLC closer to commercialization.

“My experience at NETL has given me incredibly valuable firsthand experience conducting high-level research,” said Benincosa. “My mentor, Dr. Ranjani Siriwardane, has instilled in me a foundation of technical expertise and confidence to take the lead and pursue important challenges.”

Jarrett Riley with mentor Ranjani Siriwardane

Dr. Siriwardane also mentors ORISE research associate Jarett Riley, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at WVU. Riley started the program in August 2016, and before becoming part of the ORISE program, he was contracted through AECOM and supported through a fellowship from WVU. Like Benincosa, his research involves advancing CLC technology development.

“I have had the honor to perform research alongside Dr. Siriwardane for the past three years,” Riley said of his time at NETL. “It has been a wonderful opportunity to share in her vast wealth of experience and knowledge. Collaborating at a national lab as a graduate student is a unique experience. It is one of the few opportunities where, as a student, you get to see how your research fits into a much larger picture.”

C.R. Bhatt

C.R. Bhatt joined NETL in 2016 as an ORISE research associate at the NETL Pittsburgh site and now continues as a postdoctoral researcher. Bhatt researches laser induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) with his mentor Dr. Dustin McIntire. LIBS methodology provides researchers with detailed information regarding materials characterization, and Bhatt is using the technology for the detection and quantification of rare earth elements in coal and coal byproducts. Identifying rare earths is important because the elements are used in almost every kind of high-tech device, including those used in national defense systems.

“It is a terrific opportunity for me to conduct research in a national lab in the field of my interest,” said Bhatt. “Collaborating with the team here at NETL has motivated me to continue to learn and improve my skills, ultimately making me a better researcher.”

Alvaro Rodriguez

Alvaro Rodriguez holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Akron. Rodriguez began his post-graduate ORISE program at the NETL Albany site in November 2016, where he studies the effects of corrosion on components of natural gas pipeline distribution systems.

Rodriguez enjoys collaborating with his mentor. “Dr. Hsieh is very knowledgeable and supportive,” Rodriguez said. “He has had an open-door policy, and since day one, I knew that I could ask for his feedback regarding research initiatives. Our research has produced two presentations, three papers, collaboration with the private sector, and exploration of new technologies.”

Veronika Vasylkivska

Also based at the NETL Albany site, Veronika Vasylkivska joined the ORISE program in the fall of 2014. She holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from Oregon State University, and her research is part of a collaborative effort extending the capabilities of the award winning National Risk Assessment Partnership Toolset – a set of simulation tools for better understanding and managing the risks associated with the long-term carbon storage.

Vasylkivska’s mentor is Dr. Nicolas J. Huerta, and she enjoys the multitasking and multidisciplinary environment of the laboratory. “I learned a lot of new things beyond my initial area of expertise, developed new skills and met a lot of great people,” she said. “I’ve also had several opportunities to present results of my research at important conferences.”

While each of these talented young researchers is exploring a different path at NETL, the common theme among them is the drive to succeed and a sense of pride that comes with interfacing with some of the most prominent energy researchers in the world. Their careers may still be in the initial stages, but these bright minds are poised to lead the nation and the world into the next generation of scientific advancement.
The ORISE Program is managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, a U.S. Department of Energy institute managed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities. ORISE is just one of many Graduate Education Programs at NETL.