An Interview with
Dr. Denisse Soto
Senior Scientist, ERC Incorporated
What is your position at the lab? I work on internal research projects, primarily in computational modeling and simulations to demonstrate the capability to predict the structures, stabilities, and properties of new energetic materials. This has been my job since I got here two and half years ago.
Where did you get your degrees from, and in what area? Bachelors of Science in Chemical Engineering in 2006 and PhD in Chemical Engineering in 2012, both from the both from The University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez (UPRM).
Are there any scientists or engineers in your family? My family has lawyers, surveyors and educators with bachelor’s degrees, but I am the first chemical engineer and first with a PhD.
What inspired you to get into chemical engineering? My high school chemistry teacher knew I had wanted to be a pure chemist, but told me I fit as an engineer and was a natural leader (Note: 63% of chemical engineers at UPRM are female).
What is the most exciting thing you have worked on at the lab? I have been involved in looking at new oxidizers and combining different structures for stability. I then study how they behave, and have narrowed in on a few that the group will start to synthesize. To think that one of my molecules will be synthesized is very exciting.
What are your career goals? I have four. I really like research; I would like to take my simulations up to studying bulk material properties. But I would like to be involved in more engineering too. In addition, I really enjoy educational outreach activities and want to branch out into leading such efforts. Lastly, I see myself in a management position in the future.
Do you still stay connected with Puerto Rico and UPRM? Yes, I spend my summer and vacation time back home. I visit UPRM every chance I get, setting aside time to talk to students about my experience, and working with them on how to present and build strong resumes.
What type of educational outreach activities do you do? I formulated my own program for local science fairs. It started with judging science fairs for Lancaster, Palmdale, Santa Clarita and Main Base. Now, I am building a project with Quartz Hill high school where I am working with three teachers on how to apply the scientific method to their classroom labs. This fall the students will design and build a project for an internal science fair.
Is AFRL what you expected? No, it is very different than what I expected. The work is extremely challenging, yet very interesting. Also, the diversity of the workforce (military, civilian, and contractor) is very different than what I have seen in industry. We all have to figure out how to work together, while also learning based on our differences. There are also tons of opportunities to broaden yourself, including the educational activities I previously mentioned.
How is living in the Antelope Valley? No comment, other than I love rain and gardening.