For the past 25 years, the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) program has provided students with the opportunity to gain real-world, hands-on research experience with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy. Since 1995, almost 1,000 students have supported DOE in helping the Nation meet the energy challenges of the future through this research fellowship program.

During a 10-week appointment, MLEF participants train under the mentorship of engineers and physical scientists while working on mission-focused research projects. Because this year presented unique circumstances, our mentors made sure that we were able to offer projects to all of the selected candidates during the transition to a virtual program.

In recognition of everyone’s fantastic work, we met with a few of the 2020 participants who recently concluded their fellowships with us to learn more about their experience.

Meet Damian Archer - MLEF Project: Quantification of Methane Gas in Abandoned Oil and Natural Gas Wells.

Meet Damian Archer

Damian is a senior at The Pennsylvania State University where he is earning a B.S. in Earth Science and Policy.

  • MLEF Project: Quantification of Methane Gas in Abandoned Oil and Natural Gas Wells.
  • Research focus: “My MLEF project analyzed the distribution of plugged and abandoned oil wells in the state of Oklahoma and their relationship to population descriptors, such as per capita income and population density. The analysis conducted here can be replicated in other areas, to see what different regions prioritize when they are determining which wells should be plugged.”
  • Summer experience: “My MLEF experience has provided with me with knowledge about DOE that I did not have before. And I was able to learn how to use ArcGIS, which is a skill I can take into my career. My mentor also provided me with the opportunity to attend my first conference, which deepened my appreciation for ArcGIS and its many uses. My mentor’s knowledge was very valuable, and I would not have been able to learn from her without the MLEF program.”
  • Advice to future participants: “My advice for a future MLEF participant would be to get to know others on your team. Besides your mentor, there are many knowledgeable people at DOE who have connections that may benefit you. Getting to know the other people my mentor works with also gave me other places to find answers and better understand their journey to working at DOE.”
Meet Jeremy Rivkin - MLEF Project: The Fate of Rare Earth Elements During Coal Combustion and Implications of Recovery.

Meet Jeremy Rivkin

Jeremy is a rising junior Chemical Engineering major at the University of Rochester with an intended minor in Mechanical Engineering.

  • MLEF Project: The Fate of Rare Earth Elements During Coal Combustion and Implications of Recovery.
  • Research focus: “My MLEF project focused on the thermal behaviors of rare earth elements (REEs) during coal combustion and the implications these behaviors have on the extraction of REEs from coal ash. This is important, because it offers a way to convert environmentally harmful waste products from coal combustion into valuable resources, which are crucial to the development of alternative energy technologies.”
  • Summer experience: “The MLEF experience provided me with an opportunity to develop crucial research skills while working closely with research scientists who served in mentor and advisor roles. This experience has also confirmed my interest in being a part of the work force that is helping the Nation transition to a zero-carbon economy.”
  • Advice to future participants: “Talk with your mentor regularly! This was my first experience working closely with someone in a mentor-mentee relationship. Speaking with my mentor every day was extremely helpful in developing my project over the course of the summer.”
Meet Nicholas Ferry - MLEF Project: Characterizing Surface Porosity Changes in Shale Using Image Analysis Techniques.

Meet Nicholas Ferry

Nick attends the University of Cincinnati where he will receive a M.S. degree in Geology this August. Following his graduation, he will start a doctoral program in Geology at the University of Kansas.

  • MLEF Project: Characterizing Surface Porosity Changes in Shale Using Image Analysis Techniques.
  • Research focus: “My project dealt with understanding petrophysical alterations of shale when exposed to carbon dioxide (CO₂). My research helped with estimating CO₂ storage capacity in shales for geologic carbon sequestration. The overall goal of this project was to characterize surface changes in shale rock exposed to CO₂ and/or fluids using image analysis techniques. The images were scanned electron microscopy (SEM) images that were previously collected. The imaging software, Ilastik and ImageJ, were used to characterize surface changes. The analysis included investigating porosity alterations, grain size/shape characterization, precipitation and dissolution effects, and all other physical and chemical changes visible by SEM. The results from this project helped us better understand how shale reactions with CO₂ and/or fluids alters petrophysical properties, which may impact CO₂ storage or enhanced hydrocarbon recovery.”
  • Summer experience: “The MLEF program was the best summer academic program I have been a part of – it taught me the value of fossil energy and the research that is being conducted to make it more efficient.”
  • Advice to future participants: “Do not be afraid to reach out to your research advisor when stuck. They are there to help you succeed.”

Congratulations to all of our participants for a job well done. In case you missed it, be sure to check out Part I of our MLEF Experience blog. And, to learn more about the program, visit the MLEF website or download this MLEF infographic.