Physics Student Rises From Humble Origins To Prestigious Internship

Every day is a learning opportunity for Franklin Romero Vega, whether it’s in a fast-food kitchen or pursuing a career in nuclear fusion.

The physics major’s path to a prestigious internship this fall with the Department of Energy Office of Science is a winding one. But Romero Vega sees each stop on the journey as a life lesson.

“I’m really proud of how much I’ve accomplished. I came from working in fast food to working in this internship. I just want to continue working to make the world a better place,” Romero Vega said.

The Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) selects undergraduate students to work directly with National Laboratory scientists and engineers, assisting them on research or technology projects that support DOE. Romero Vega was one of the 148 selected students to participate in the Fall 2021 program.

Coming from Ecuador at age 15 was a culture shock for Romero Vega, beginning with learning English. The variety of backgrounds and life experiences so different than what he shared with his friends back home also proved challenging. Attending UCF eased the challenges.

“UCF has provided a good environment to meet people from different backgrounds and help me expand my vision of the world, as well as help me to understand people of this country better,” Romero Vega said

Romero Vega’s research focuses on nuclear fusion, the development of new energy and limiting the impacts of climate change. According to the United Nations, climate change is the “defining issue of our time.” Carbon dioxide emissions related to energy continue to rise – reaching 33.1 billion tonnes in 2018, a record high, and have increased by more than 40 percent since 2000. To reduce carbon dioxide emissions, scientists suggest using nuclear energy because of its low-carbon output and ability to supply the world with clean and reliable energy.

Romero Vega’s career goal is a job with the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which is set to be the largest nuclear fusion reactor in the world.

Romero Vega expects ITER to provide us data that will be valuable in the development of nuclear fusion reactors. While nuclear energy draws its shares of critics, Romero Vega insists nuclear fusion is “one of the safest energy sources of the planet.”

This internship represents a step forward for Romero Vega, but he can still see the parallels between where he started and where he’s headed.

“Working in a fast food restaurant is very different from an internship, but one thing they do have in common is that they have both made me more responsible and allowed me to communicate with different people and overall learn from different walks of life,” Romero Vega said.

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