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ORNL Undergraduate Research Profile: Daniel Enciso

HERE student jumpstarts engineering career through internship at ORNL


ORNL Intern Daniel Enciso

Daniel Enciso, a sophomore in computer engineering at the University of Tennessee, is helping develop a computational system in the Higher Education Research Experiences program that will enable researchers to analyze and track sensitive supply chain information for a number of critical materials.

As a high school student enrolled in a medical professions program in Palm Harbor, Fla., Daniel Enciso envisioned pursuing a career in medicine. But his family’s relocation to Tennessee and his subsequent attainment of the International Baccalaureate Diploma at Franklin High School inspired him to step back and reevaluate. A career in medicine would certainly be challenging and validating—but was there another path better suited for Enciso’s love of technology and innovation, one that would use the critical thinking skills and creativity garnered from the International Baccalaureate program?

As it turned out, yes.

“My parents helped me see that a degree in engineering is powerful because of the influence that an engineering education has on the mind, character and subsequent actions of an individual,” said Enciso, now a sophomore in the prestigious Haslam Scholars Program at the University of Tennessee. “The problem-solving strategies, vision and determination obtained from an education in engineering prepare one for any field and for life in general.”

Enciso promptly began observing the power and influence computers have on financial transactions, social interactions, machine operations, education and entertainment and resolved to pursue computer engineering. Fast-forward two years, and that decision has placed him in the halls of one of the world’s most renowned facilities for high-tech innovation and fast computing.

In the Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE) program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Enciso participates in research conducted by the Geographic Information Science and Technology group in the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division. His role is to help his mentor, Rajasekar Karthik, and other staff scientists develop a user-interface and data tools to help analysts decompose the supply chain of more than 100 strategic materials, also known as rare earth elements.

Rare earth elements are a class of 17 elements on the periodic table that are often found deep in geologic deposits, making them expensive and difficult to mine. They are used in a variety of consumer, national security and medicinal applications like rechargeable batteries, precision-guided weapons and MRIs.

Because each supply chain decomposition requires locating and researching the mines, facilities and companies associated with the production of that material, the research can easily get overwhelming. Enciso is helping build the Strategic Materials Analysis & Reporting Topography (SMART) computational system to help analysts organize and examine collected data to provide situational awareness of material production in the case of exploitation or ill use. 

“The SMART system will allow big data and dynamic supply chains to be significantly more manageable. The system enables analysts to quickly discover new leads and information with high-impact factors in an intuitive fashion, which holds implications for national security,” Enciso explained. “In this volatile global economy, securing the supply of strategic and critical materials plays a major role in the national security interests of the United States.”

The HERE program has accelerated Enciso’s understanding of software engineering through his development of front-end visualization tools, the design and implementation of database schema and the extraction-transformation-load software development. The program has also given him the opportunity to network with other students and scientists.

“Speaking with current employees, learning about their careers, obtaining their advice—all these are so important in complementing my research at the lab,” said Enciso, who envisions one day managing tech companies who specialize in data solutions for the “Internet of Things,” a term referencing a network of physical objects like vehicles and devices that can collect and exchange data.

“When I started the internship, I did not really understand the full impact of an experience at ORNL. My research project has provided me with the knowledge of what can be done in data science, software engineering and the prospects for my future career. Overall, the skills and experience I have gained during my time at ORNL are nothing short of incredible.”

The HERE program, which is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy, is designed to improve a participant’s scientific literacy while contributing to ORNL’s mission of scientific discovery, clean energy and security.