As a child, Buduka Ogonor would look out at the night sky and wonder about the physics behind neutron stars and black holes. Today, as a fourth-year student in the College at UChicago, Ogonor has continued to explore his fascination with physics through two programs at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.
Argonne strives to create ongoing pathways for students like Ogonor to develop science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills toward real-world applications. Students can transition from one lab program to another as they advance their academic and career goals in STEM fields. In the past year, Ogonor has carried on his STEM journey through participation in both Argonne’s Mini Semester and the DOE’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) program.
At UChicago, Ogonor found his interests shifting from astrophysics toward a more general focus in physics. He was particularly interested in the application of computational science in these areas, which led him to Argonne’s Mini Semester program.
Argonne established the Mini Semester program to increase the number of STEM-interested students from underrepresented groups in Argonne’s internship programs. “We want to give students the opportunity to connect with the lab’s world-class STEM research professionals and see how different STEM areas apply to real-world careers through our internship programs,” said Argonne’s University Student Program Coordinator Rob Schuch. “The goal of Mini Semester is to help students craft their internship applications and build skills in computational science, so they can hit the ground running in a STEM internship.”
In December 2020, Ogonor participated in the lab’s first Mini Semester program: Computing Across the Sciences. The four-day virtual experience featured sessions with mentors, science computation workshops and internship application seminars. “The computational sciences are cool because you can have a really complex system and find really satisfying answers,” he explained. “The Mini Semester let me see the work that STEM researchers are doing with computers, and that really interested me.”
One of the STEM researchers that Ogonor learned about at the Mini Semester was his future SULI mentor, Argonne scientist Maria Chan. Ogonor became interested in Chan’s work and initiated a separate meeting with her to learn more about it. “We were able to talk about the projects she’s working on, and the project [for SULI] sounded really cool to me. I also wanted the chance to work on a research project, and to be engaged with the larger Argonne community,” he said. “The Mini Semester was instrumental in helping me get the position in SULI.”
For his SULI internship with the Nanoscience and Technology division, Ogonor researched ways to develop machine learning models that can recognize different structures in electron microscopy images. This will potentially allow STEM researchers to understand the materials’ properties and apply them to a variety of purposes. “I found value in the internship by knowing at the end of the day that what I was contributing could be used to design better solar panels or battery materials,” he said. “It’s at the nexus of physics and machine learning, and that’s something I’ll take with me for a while.”
After he graduates, Ogonor intends to continue his physics studies on to a doctorate. “I want to focus on the intersection between artificial intelligence and machine learning in physics, because that’s what my project at Argonne centered around,” he said.
However, he is also interested in materials science. “Argonne opened my eyes to how diverse the field of material science is, and it’s something I want to keep studying,” he said. “There’s a large community working on solving material science problems using machine learning, with real-world applications.”
This work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS). The story was first published on the Argonne National Laboratory website.