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Why Science?

ORNL is proud of its role in fostering the next generation of scientists and engineers. We bring in talented young researchers, team them with accomplished staff members, and put them to work at the lab’s one-of-a-kind facilities. The result is research that makes us proud and prepares them for distinguished careers.

We asked some of these young researchers why they chose a career in science, what they are working on at ORNL, and where they would like to go with their careers.

Jessica M. Vélez

Graduate student, Environmental Sciences Division
Ph.D. student, Energy Science and Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville (Bredesen Center)
Hometown: Various cities in North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas

What are you working on at ORNL?

I am characterizing a population of the ectomycorrhizal fungus Cenococcum geophilum isolated from soils taken from underneath Populus trichocarpa trees in the Pacific Northwest. I am also testing the growth of this population with a panel of heavy metals, including cadmium and copper, and hope to use fungi which are resistant to these in a greenhouse experiment with poplar.

What would you like to do in your career?

I aim to pursue a career in science communication and outreach on behalf of a nonprofit or research institution. I currently participate in several science communication initiatives and am leading a student project to develop a proposal to establish a science communication and outreach track for the Bredesen Center.

Why did you choose a career in science?

I began my secondary education in microbiology at the University of Texas in Austin in 2001 but ultimately completed a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2004. I returned to school to complete a more specialized scientific education and found my calling in outreach, service and the communication of science.