When computer science student Larry Roberts arrived at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for his summer internship, he did not know where the opportunity would lead. Fast forward a few years, and he finds himself researching as a staff member on an award-winning team at the federal facility.
After years of staying home to raise his seven children, Roberts enrolled at Tennessee Technological University in 2012, alongside his son. In fact, the two had several classes together during their first semester.
While completing his undergraduate degree in computer science, Roberts participated in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program and the Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE) program. Both opportunities, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), allowed him to engage in hands-on projects.
One project in particular, the ORiGAMI (Oak Ridge Graph Analytics for Medical Innovation) project, received a prestigious R&D 100 Award in 2016. Each year, R&D magazine honors significant advancements in science and technology at its annual conference.
ORiGAMI is an artificial intelligence system designed to search, collect and connect medical literature resources to create associations and advance medical research. Already, the engine has helped researchers further examine possible carcinogens and drug-disease interactions.
The team was led by Sreenivas Sukumar in collaboration with the National Library of Medicine. Roberts was involved with all aspects of the programming of the system. He wrote web application, helped develop the web server and wrote web Application Programming Interface and Python programs to interact with the system.
Additionally, Roberts has delivered presentations to explain and demonstrate the program and travelled to various conferences, including the Historical Clinicopathological Conference and the IBM World of Watson.
Now, as a data analytics software engineer, Roberts conducts similar research. As a member of the Biomedical Sciences, Engineering and Computing group with Georgia Tourassi, Ph.D., his ORISE mentor, he is researching using deep learning, an area of machine learning, to accelerate cancer research.
“We are working on a National Cancer Institute project to convert free-text narratives, such as doctor’s notes, into useful information using natural-language data-processing and machine learning for deep comprehension,” Roberts said.
He recognizes the impact his internships had on his personal and professional development and encourages others to apply for the programs as well.
“The main benefits of being in the ORISE program were making contacts and discovering opportunities,” Roberts said. “I would not have a job at ORNL today if it wasn’t for interning, getting to know the people here and being able to demonstrate my abilities.”