Luisa Vargas Suarez, BSC’23, had been interested in renewable energy since high school, but it wasn’t until starting in the natural sciences program at UCalgary that her passion for nuclear energy really took off.
Vargas Suarez credits her professor, Dr. Jason Donev, PhD, a professor in physics at UCalgary, and his energy education team for drawing her into the potential of nuclear energy. Vargas Suarez worked on simulations and translations for the energy encyclopedia, energyeducation.ca, which presents comprehensive and easy-to-understand information about the science of energy, like how it’s produced and how much is used in different areas of the world.
“I started by translating the web pages into Spanish, and from there I got inspired to do other projects, like building data visualizations for energy and my build a nucleus project,” says Vargas Suarez, who convocated in fall 2023. She graduated — with honours — with a major in natural sciences, concentrating in energy science and chemistry, as well as a minor in computer science.
Vargas Suarez’ work received well-deserved attention throughout her degree. For two years in a row, she was the Canadian Nuclear Society undergraduate student conference winner.
Her Build a Nucleus website, which she presented in her second year at the conference, is an interactive simulation that teaches about the chart of nuclides in an accessible and engaging way. Vargas Suarez says when she was first introduced to the chart, it was a huge learning curve for her. Her simulation allows anyone with a high school chemistry background to learn about nuclides, and how we get energy out of the nucleus.
“I’m grateful to be part of the energy education research team because I got so many opportunities. I got to meet industry professionals at conferences, connect with other passionate students and become a teaching assistant,” says Vargas Suarez. “The team really gave me a different perspective on the energy issues we have today.”
Donev says Vargas Suarez has been creative and diligent, taking his entire research group in directions he never imagined possible.
“Her willingness to try out difficult and exciting projects has created phenomenal international opportunities, collaborating with world-class organizations like the Smithsonian Affiliate National Museum of Nuclear Science and History and the PhET Interactive Simulations group at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her work has been viewed by more than 100,000 people and continues to be used by people in more than a dozen languages."
Vargas Suarez’ passion is undeniable. She believes wholeheartedly in nuclear power and hopes more people embrace it as the energy of the future.
“We can’t just rely on solar, wind or batteries because they just don’t provide enough energy,” she says. “Nuclear is so efficient and the byproduct is so small. To me, it’s the safest and best choice on our road to solving climate change.”
Vargas Suarez is thankful for the Science Internship Program, which allowed her to take a year off her studies and gain work experience at PhET Interactive Simulations in Colorado. She's also deeply grateful for the fact that the class sizes in the natural sciences program were small, with only 20 to 30 people per class. This kind of setting allowed her to meet other like-minded students and for her professors to not just get to know her work, but also her passions and her dreams for the future.
The future is looking bright for this graduate. She’s currently looking into starting a master’s degree in nuclear energy or nuclear science. After that, she hopes to work at a nuclear research lab and spread information about this kind of energy though different avenues, like the Women in Nuclear Canada association.
“It really was UCalgary that opened my eyes to nuclear energy,” says Vargas Suarez. “It defined my path and allowed me to grow so much as a person.”