Little did Dol Chalise know his love for math as an elementary school student in Nepal would inspire a career path that would later land him in one of the United States’ top national labs.
Chalise, who received a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, was selected to participate in the Post-Master’s Research Participation Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
The program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) through a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It offers opportunities for recent masters and doctoral graduates to conduct hands-on, real-world research in the basic and applied sciences, energy, and the environment.
“The Post-Master’s Research Participation Program provides an incredible experience for recent graduates to collaborate with world-class researchers and interact in a way that is unique to the national laboratory system,” said Chalise, who is helping develop solutions to the nation’s pressing need for renewable energy. “Here at the lab I have the freedom, resources and opportunities to develop and apply my own ideas to innovative research that will impact the lives of every American and the lives of billions of people around the world.”
Specifically, Chalise is helping ORNL’s Energy-Water Resource Systems Group in the Environmental Sciences Division develop analytical tools to assist decision makers in determining the technical and financial viability of hydropower projects.
Hydropower is considered a largely underutilized energy source, with only a fraction of the nation’s 80,000 dams being used to generate electricity. With increasing emphasis on clean, reliable energy, DOE has identified numerous untapped sites that have the potential to collectively generate gigawatts of energy.
“Hydropower is the most reliable, affordable and sustainable renewable energy source available today,” said Chalise, explaining that existing waterways like non-powered dams and canals are prime areas for development of low-impact, community-scale hydropower.
Furthermore, pumped storage hydropower—in which power is generated on-demand by releasing stored water from a reservoir—is increasingly seen as a solution to supplement variable energy generation sources like wind and solar. Overall, hydropower has the potential to increase grid stability and add thousands of U.S. jobs.
At the lab, Chalise draws from his former experience as a design engineer and project manager at private energy firms in Nepal, as well as his experience as a research intern at the U.S. Geological Survey, to brainstorm solutions to issues of hydropower stability, design and cost.
Under the guidance of his mentor Boualem Hadjerioua, Ph.D., deputy Water Power Program manager and senior research engineer at ORNL, Chalise has authored or co-authored five papers since his appointment began two years ago. One of these co-authored papers, “Parametric Cost Modeling for National-Scale Hydropower Feasibility,” earned second place in the “Technical Paper of the Year in Market Trends & Strategies” award category at the 2015 HydroVision International Conference in Portland, Oregon.
He also attends regular meetings with industry leaders and collaborators, maintains a large database on hydropower cost and takes advantage of numerous professional development opportunities—a definite perk of researching at a prominent, interdisciplinary and multinational laboratory.
To this end, he has served as an executive committee member of the Oak Ridge Postdoctoral Association, an organization focused on promoting the professional and social enrichment of postdoctoral researchers at ORNL but open to Post-Master’s students as well. He also chaired the Nuclear and Energy Science session of the 3rd Annual Oak Ridge Postdoctoral Research Symposium, a networking event that brings together ORNL researchers of all educational levels.
Altogether, these experiences have helped Chalise gain invaluable planning, interpersonal and technical communication skills in a cross-discipline setting, skills he plans on using in an engineering position at an organization dedicated to human welfare and the environment.
Chalise highly recommends the ORNL Post-Master’s Research Participation Program to other potential participants and suggests they open themselves to the same kind of professional development and learning opportunities he did.
“As is, the program provides an excellent opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team of engineers, economists, hydrologists, and environmental scientists on challenging problems,” said Chalise, “but I would suggest future participants not limit themselves to their office or cubicle and instead pursue opportunities for career counseling, leadership training, workshops, seminars, and networking. I am confident this will help them learn, explore their true potential, and gain the kind of unique experience the lab is known for.”