My internship at the Nuclear Chemistry Summer School

Name: Alejandro Hernandez

Major: Chemistry

Hometown: Miami, FL

Where did you intern? I was competitively selected as one of 12 students from a pool of over 140 students nationwide to participate in a Nuclear Chemistry Summer School at San Jose State University. This was an intensive six-week program, which consisted of lectures on the fundamentals of nuclear science, radiochemistry and their applications in related fields.

What did you do there? Laboratory work introduced me to state-of-the-art instrumentation and technology used routinely in basic and applied nuclear science. In addition to the formal instruction, the course included a guest lecture series and tours of nearby research centers at universities and national laboratories. I was able to meet and interact with prominent research scientists from universities and the Department Of Energy’s national labs who are working in nuclear and radiochemistry, nuclear medicine, nuclear forensics and other related fields.

I was also able to tour a number of facilities such as Lawrence Livermore National Lab National Ignition Facilities, Berkeley National Lab Cyclotron, and Stanford Nuclear Medicine Facilities.

How did the work you do connect back to your coursework? As a DOE Fellow in the Applied Research Center at FIU, I have been conducting research on remediation of radionuclide contamination for different environmental settings. As a chemistry major, I have followed the FIU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry robust and diverse curriculum, but I felt that I wanted to expand my horizons in the niche filed of radiochemistry. Having gone through this summer program, I feel like I have a more rounded sense of the field of chemistry and a deeper understanding of my current project.

What was the coolest thing about your experience? The most interesting thing about the summer school was the wide applications of radiochemistry in everyday life — from medical imaging and cancer treatment to simple things like fire alarms, which are common in every household. I also found the places that we got to visit, which are conducting groundbreaking research in nuclear chemistry and physics, extremely interesting.

What did you learn about yourself? I improved my time management and efficiency having participated in such an intensive course with tight deadlines. I also appreciated deeply the process of learning through hands-on experiments and interactive courses. I enjoy working in groups to solve problems, and I am more confident that I can accomplish the goals I set for myself.

How will this opportunity help you professionally? This program gave us the opportunity to interact with researchers from universities and national labs and to expand our professional network. The invited lecturers and professors gave a wide overview on topics from graduate studies to the future needs of the nuclear and radiochemistry field in the U.S. Apart from the professors and scientists I had the opportunity to interact with, I must say that the connections I made with my peers, a brilliant group of young students that went through the program with me, are very valuable to me.

What advice do you have for others just starting the internship process? My technical advice would be to apply as early as possible and be prepared for an intense but very rewarding experience. Just keep an open mind as much as possible and try to identify every opportunity that comes along by thinking outside of the box.