A first-generation college student from the Bronx, a borough of New York City, Jamil Gafur’s internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, made him the first member of his immediate family to leave New York for more than a week.
“I have always enjoyed pushing the limits of human understanding and finding new and innovative ways to solve real world problems,” said Gafur, speaking of his motivation to pursue a STEM career. Gafur’s experience was made possible by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) Summer Internship Program.
The DNDO Summer Internship Program provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in projects at federal research facilities across the United States. Participants assist in addressing issues related to national security and nuclear detection to help DNDO meet its mission of preventing nuclear terrorism and train future generations of scientists.
For his research, Gafur focused on improving software that is designed to determine the environment and region where nuclear materials were developed based on the materials’ morphological signature. Under the mentorship of Diane Oyen, Ph.D., Gafur spent his time investigating an extension of this software that would allow individuals to create their own plugin, which adds a specific feature to the software. The main software may not be updated as quickly as individual scientists might need, and the plugin would allow scientists to use their own updates in the software, as well as individualizing the software to fit their specific research needs.
In addition to helping create a plugin to meet scientists’ needs, Gafur worked to improve the software’s ability to analyze and quantify incoming data. Scientists collect data faster than the software can analyze it. Gafur investigated improving the software’s ability to automatically analyze images using machine learning, which is an application of artificial intelligence that allows the software to automatically learn and improve. His efforts contributed toward improving the software’s function to help recognize and determine the source of nuclear materials, essential to DHS’s efforts to protect the United States against the entry of unknown nuclear materials.
During his internship, Gafur gained new skills in writing computer code for machine learning, a basic understanding of artificial intelligence, big data analysis, and software development.
“My favorite part of the program was sitting with my mentor and discussing how to tackle a specific problem. One of the best things about this program was the community that was fostered by my group,” Gafur says.
Gafur returned to Lehman College, the City University of New York, to complete his bachelor’s degree in computer science. Prior to his internship, Gafur planned on finishing his bachelor’s degree and seeking employment immediately. However, the program provided him the opportunity to learn about different programs that would allow him to pursue a doctoral degree.
“After talking with my team and mentor, I have been convinced to apply for a Ph.D.,” Gafur stated. Now, after he completes his bachelor’s degree he plans on applying for a doctoral program in his field.
The DNDO Summer Internship Program is funded by DNDO and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.