By virtue of his high school, Pedro Junior Vicente Valdez seemed destined for a career in medicine.

The school, which boasts one of the best academic programs in Mexico, had a history of producing talented students who went on to attend medical school.

ORNL Success Story: Pedro Junior Vicente Valdez
Doctoral student Pedro Junior Vicente Valdez used computer modeling techniques to simulate the removal of fission products in molten salt reactors during an internship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“It was like a tradition,” Vicente Valdez recalled.

Following that tradition, he, too, enrolled in med school. But, before his first semester began, he had a change of heart.

“I knew I wanted to help people, but I also always had an interest in chemistry, computer science and physics,” he said. “I was always curious about how the world works, how materials are designed and created, the chemistry and physics behind things.”

A focus on engineering

Vicente Valdez decided to switch his focus from medicine to engineering. As an undergraduate at the Universidad de las Americas, Puebla, in Mexico, he studied nanotechnology and molecular engineering.

“After finishing my bachelor’s, I got out with a feeling that while nanotechnology was and still is amazing, I wanted to help with the world’s most serious challenge today—global warming,” he said.

“With my background in physics and chemistry and after seeking advice from my mentors, I had no doubt that my next step was to pursue a graduate degree in nuclear engineering.”

The path to ORNL

He took that next step at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and is currently seeking his doctorate in the same field.

At UC Berkeley, Vicente Valdez heard about the Advanced Short-Term Research Opportunity (ASTRO) internship program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The ASTRO program assigns graduate students and recent master’s degree recipients to real-world projects in the basic and applied sciences, energy and environment.

An adviser encouraged him to apply, and he did just that.

Once accepted, Vicente Valdez joined ORNL’s Reactor and Nuclear Systems Division, where he interned under the guidance of Benjamin Betzler, Ph.D., and Germina Ilas, Ph.D.

‘A world of expertise’

During his internship, Vicente Valdez tested a new tool in the SCALE computer modeling suite to simulate the removal of fission products in molten salt reactors (MSRs). Such research efforts will help the nuclear community better develop, model and build the future fleet of advanced nuclear reactors.

As part of the ASTRO program, Vincente Valdez learned new techniques in data analysis and strengthened his knowledge of SERPENT2, a Monte Carlo particle transport code.

ORNL Success Story: Pedro Junior Vicente Valdez
Pedro Junior Vicente Valdez presents his research findings at the Oak Ridge Postdoctoral Association’s Research Symposium.

One of his favorite parts of the experience was getting to know and interact with ORNL researchers. “At this lab, you are surrounded by a world of expertise,” he said.

He also enjoyed the opportunity to attend seminars and workshops, which broadened his knowledge in fields outside his area of study.

Plans for the future

After his time at ORNL, Vicente Valdez returned to UC Berkeley to continue his doctoral program in nuclear engineering. He hopes to come back to ORNL for another research appointment.

“I would definitely recommend the ASTRO program to anyone who wants to advance their professional career at one of the best labs in the world,” Vicente Valdez said. “(This experience) will open doors for collaboration, and it will help you develop state-of-the-art skills that are needed to be successful in your fast-changing field.”

The ASTRO program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy.