Adriel Poo Armas’ first big move occurred at 14 when he immigrated with his family from Cuba to Tampa, Florida. He relocated again in 2022 to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as a computer science student.
Now a college senior accustomed to moving great distances, Poo Armas made a 1,000-plus mile journey this summer to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he has an internship at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories.
His first encounter with UTC came as a Hillsborough Community College student in Tampa. As a student assistant for Hillsborough’s honors program, he could attend conferences with the staff.
At an Honors Council conference in 2021, Poo Armas met Linda Frost, dean of the UTC Honors College. Frost recommended UTC to Poo Armas, who was not only accepted but also awarded several scholarships.
Poo Armas explained valuable connections like these helped him reach where he is now.
In 2022, Poo Armas met another key figure, Dr. Anthony Skjellum, director of the former SimCenter, while participating in a UTC research experience for undergraduates (REU) program. Skjellum introduced Poo Armas to the field of high-performance computing, the use of advanced computer systems to tackle complex problems.
“There is a $1 million-dollar question,” Poo Armas said about his research. “How do we make computers go faster?”
Skjellum saw Poo Armas as an excellent fit for an internship at Sandia, where research focuses on combating national security threats such as nuclear weapons and climate change. He urged Poo Armas to apply.
Poo Armas secured the position and in May moved to Albuquerque, an experience he called a “roller coaster of emotions.” Fear was among them, he said, after he heard Albuquerque was among the most dangerous cities in America.
“Housing was really challenging,” he said. “There was some housing in a part of town that was called the war zone.”
He felt more secure when he arrived at Sandia for his internship. Due to SNL’s status as a DOE National Nuclear Security Administration lab and its location on a U.S. Air Force base, strict security measures are in place for employees.
“I think what surprised me the most is the security,” Poo Armas said. “It’s very systematic; everyone has badges and stuff like that.”
Poo Armas’ current research at SNL is a continuation of his REU research on high-performance computing.
He is also studying parallel programming, which breaks problems into smaller tasks that can be executed concurrently using multiple computing resources.
He compared it to a math equation.
“Instead of doing it sequentially, you tell one computer to do two times two and the other computer two times two, then the other computer gets both of those results,” he said. “Instead of it taking 10 seconds, now the computer does it in five seconds.”
Poo Armas said he will use his research to complete his final thesis at UTC and that it has provided him with insight into the field of computer science outside of college.
“The environment and the workflow are going to be very similar,” he said. “For me, the prime motivator was to get that real-world experience.”
The transition from Chattanooga to Albuquerque and interning at a prestigious research facility with a mission of providing scientific and technology support to U.S. national security programs was an intimidating prospect for Poo Armas, but he expressed gratitude for making the sacrifice and encouraged others to put themselves out there for opportunities like his.
“This has been a huge imposter syndrome for me,” he said. “There’s all these people and I’m like, ‘How am I here?’ but just ask—you never know the opportunities that may arise.”
Albuquerque, New Mexico, through the lens of Adriel Poo Armas