Department of Energy award takes MU Grad student to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Graduate student Alexander Myers will leave MU in January to study radioactive elements in a nationally-renowned lab.

The Department of Energy recently gave graduate student Alexander Myers a research award that will allow him to study at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California for three months.

This award covers living expenses and costs of research, as well as a $3,000 monthly stipend.

“I’m going to make some very unique compounds that virtually no one else in the world can make,” Myers said. In January, he will leave Columbia to begin the next phase of his doctoral dissertation, in which he will help further research in actinide chemistry. Actinide chemistry focuses on the actinide series, a group of elements comprising the bottom of the periodic table, all of which are radioactive.

Myers has worked closely with Dr. Justin Walensky, an associate professor of actinide chemistry at MU, studying specific elements in the series.

“The three elements we work mainly with are thorium, uranium and neptunium, and they’re all involved in the nuclear fuel cycle,” Walensky said.

These elements are typically applied in the creation of nuclear fuel as well as nuclear weapons, yet they remain fairly understudied, leaving room for the possibility of more applications being discovered in the future, Walensky said.

Myers is currently the sole researcher on the neptunium project at MU, an area of study he intends to continue at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.

This research award will give Myers the opportunity to work with plutonium, an element rarely available for research, which is exciting, Myers said.

Myers said once at the lab, he will “do some magnetism studies on some neptunium compounds and then attempt to make some plutonium compounds that would be analogous to the neptunium compounds [and] examine their differences as well.”

Through these magnetism studies, Myers will be able to examine the electronic behavior and ground state of these compounds.

Facilities at MU, as well as at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, are one of the factors that drew Myers to study this subject. These labs use air-free and water-free chemistry by using a glovebox.

“I would venture to say there’s less than five labs like [MU’s] in the entire world,” Walensky said.

This enables researchers to study unstable compounds without outside interference and make rare compounds. Walensky said in the three months of working together, Myers has “already made some really cool compounds that are going to go in some really good journals.”

Using the advanced facilities at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Myers hopes to familiarize himself with running and operating lab equipment such as a superconducting quantum interference device magnetometer during magnetic studies.

“My chemistry may not have a direct application now, [but] the stuff that we learn could potentially in the future have some pretty massive applications,” Myers said.

Edited by Olivia Garrett |

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