UCF Grad’s Work Is Out Of This World

Alex EnriquezUCF chemistry alumnus, Alex Enriquez, ’94, says the best part of his job is working with arguably the most fascinating and complicated element known to man: plutonium.

Dr. Enriquez is group leader for NCO-5, the Heat Source Technologies group at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. The group he manages is responsible for the safe manufacture of plutonium-238 heat sources that are used to power deep space probes and vehicles. Some of these include the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity and New Horizons probes, as well as some defense applications.

Dr. Enriquez says his bachelor’s in chemistry from UCF has taken him far. It paved the way to his first technical job at Flowers Chemical Laboratories, and then to graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he earned his Ph.D. Dr. Enriquez expressed his gratitude for the professors he worked with at UCF. He says they taught him to challenge himself and work hard, bringing him to where he is today.

Dr. Enriquez shared more about his time at UCF, his work and his advice to students and alumni.

Why did you choose to attend UCF?
UCF presented an excellent value that was close to home. Its partnership with Valencia College was also quite helpful and I was able attend several core classes there that readily transferred to UCF for credit.

Have you stayed connected with UCF since graduation? If so, how?
Not as much as I would like and I am very interested in reconnecting with my peers. Fortunately, I have been able to stay in touch with former UCF chemistry professors. I do root for the Knights all the time in whatever sport they play. Watching the Fiesta Bowl victory last year was particularly enjoyable.

What is your most memorable experience on the job?
Being part of a team that received a DOE Secretary’s achievement award from then Secretary of Energy and Noble Laureate, Steven Chu, was very exciting. Our team purified the plutonium-238 oxide that powers the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover and overcame many hurdles to reach this achievement. A tie would have to be getting VIP seats to view the launch of the MSL at Kennedy Space Center the day after Thanksgiving in 2011. Viewing that launch was a unique thrill that tied my work in Los Alamos, New Mexico to my childhood fascination with space exploration growing up in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida.

What piece of advice would you give to current students as well as UCF alumni?
I would advise current UCF students to work hard, not get behind in your studies, ask for help when you don’t understand, and study with your peers. For students and alumni alike I say: have fun, surround yourself with people you like, don’t waste time on people who bring you down, learn from your failures, and celebrate achievements big and small.

Dr. Enriquez answered some fun questions to help us get to know him better.

Do you have any other special talents?
I’ve been told that I am a pretty decent cook and I enjoy preparing cuisines from around the world including Spain, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, the American South, and of course Cuba, the country from which my parents escaped. I can also spin bar trays and books on my finger, a skill I acquired when I was a waiter at Ruby Tuesday’s in Orlando Fashion Square Mall.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you be and why?
The Doctor. Traveling through space-time in a blue police box while fighting Cybermen and Daleks and helping the likes of Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, the Ood, the late Face of Boe, and others from certain destruction sounds awesome. Who wouldn’t want to be a Time Lord?

If you could have dinner with any three people, living or dead, with whom would you choose to dine?

My family, Sofia, Andy, and Elisa.

What do you do for fun?

I enjoy traveling, especially to warm ocean climates. It gets cold and dry in Los Alamos. I also enjoy cooking for friends and trail running in the Jemez Mountains. I’ll admit I still enjoy playing video games especially now that I have children who like to play with me.


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