Patricia Huestis (LaVerne Group)

Identification and γ-Radiolysis of Thermal Transition Phases in Boehmite

January 15, 2020

Huestis Square

Patricia Huestis is a fifth-year graduate student advised by Prof. Jay LaVerne in the Radiation Laboratory. She presented "Identification and γ-Radiolysis of Thermal Transition Phases in Boehmite" at the January 2020 ND Energy PD&GS Luncheon.

Huestis examines aluminum minerals that are prevalent in legacy nuclear waste to understand the role that ionizing radiation has played in aging those materials. While LaVerne has traditionally done a lot of work related to nuclear reactors, Huestis is focused on the clean-up side of nuclear energy.

“Part of the argument against nuclear energy is that we have a lot of waste and we don’t know what to do with it,” Huestis said. “This work is progressing the field forward from a different perspective.”

As an undergraduate physics major at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Huestis took an interest in the nuclear energy industry through her minor in nuclear engineering. Notre Dame’s strong nuclear program and extensive campus resources attracted Huestis to the University for her graduate studies.

“If you go to radiation chemistry conferences, almost everyone there has been through the Notre Dame Radiation Laboratory, or they have an advisor or a student that has been through,” Huestis said. “So the Notre Dame Rad Lab is a world-renowned hub for radiation chemistry.”

In addition to the Radiation Laboratory, Huestis lauded the various facilities at Notre Dame such as the Nuclear Science Laboratory, Center for Environmental Science and Technology (CEST), and ND Energy’s Materials Characterization Facility (MCF). The campus provides a centralized location which allows researchers to maintain control of every step of the process.

“You can accomplish research here that would normally require you to go to multiple places or even hand off your samples,” Huestis said. “When you get to be involved in every aspect of data collection and analysis, you get a better experience. Not everyone has that luxury.”

Huestis has collected quite a bit of her thesis data through the use of several instruments at the MCF. Not only does the MCF remove the time-consuming and often expensive burden of maintaining equipment from individual labs, the facility’s staff also provides technical assistance and training to users. She praised the work of Dr. Ian Lightcap, research and facilities program director, and Anna Matzner, laboratory specialist.

“Whether it’s a new technique or a different way to use an instrument, Ian and Anna are willing to help users get data,” Huestis said. “This is especially true if we are doing something that’s a bit more on the experimental side.”

As one of the services available to associated researchers, ND Energy provided travel expense support for Huestis to attend the Miller Conference on Radiation Chemistry in Cumbria, United Kingdom. There she was able to give a talk and present a poster on her research.

Huestis will be defending her thesis at the end of February and will move on to a postdoctoral position at Los Alamos National Laboratory with the intention of eventually becoming a staff scientist.