Multifaceted research fellowship provides direction for geology student

Amelia Hayes
Amelia Hayes joined the Actinide Chemistry and Repository Science Team at the U.S. Department of Energy Carlsbad Field Office in their efforts to implement variable temperature studies on rock salt. Her research helps scientists predict what water will do if nuclear waste were to heat the surrounding salt, which could ultimately help America in dealing with nuclear waste.

Like many other college students, Amelia Hayes is still searching for what she wants to do with her future as she approaches graduation.

Taking matters into her own hands, this geology major from New Mexico State University applied for and was selected as a participant in the Carlsbad Field Office (CBFO) Fellowship Program administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), which is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The CBFO Fellowship Program offers one-year, renewable appointments for high school seniors, undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates to conduct mission-oriented research at DOE's CBFO in Carlsbad, NM., or at another DOE facility. Participants gain experience and training in radioactive waste-related fields while gaining access to top scientists and state-of-the-art projects and equipment through this multifarious program.

"I like the dynamic environment that environmental geology offers," she explained. "Environmental consulting usually involves spending time in the field, the laboratory and in the office. I want to specialize in assessment, remediation and regulation compliance of industrial sites, such as mines and oil refineries, because I feel this is a way to promote responsible use of our natural resources."

As she looks toward her future and upcoming college graduation, Hayes also wants to gain experience in the laboratory to determine whether she wants to pursue laboratory positions or keep her focus on field work. She is involved with a variety of projects with the Actinide Chemistry and Repository Science (ACRS) team, under the guidance of mentor Donald Reed, implementing variable temperature studies on rock salt, which will ultimately help America deal with its nuclear waste.

With the ACRS team, Hayes is setting up a variable temperature-capable laboratory at the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center facility. She is involved with installing and calibrating ovens and a dry bath incubator that can heat materials to various temperatures for an extended period of time.

One such application can be seen through her second project. She is collecting samples from DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to perform water content analysis of the salt from different locations within WIPP. By weighing the samples, heating them to different temperatures and then seeing how much weight is lost, she can determine the amount of water that has been lost due to evaporation.

The projects she is involved in are aimed at understanding what the conditions at WIPP would be if high-level or commercial waste were allowed to be placed there. By getting an accurate water content measurement, Hayes will help scientists predict what the water will do if nuclear waste were to heat the surrounding salt.

Since her time is split between researching, setting up equipment in the laboratory, conducting literature searches and writing laboratory notes in the office, Hayes is getting a chance to experience the dynamic environment she craves.

"I want to pursue a career where I get to discover new things and never stop learning," she said. "The CBFO program is a great way for science and engineering students to see what people in their fields of study actually do. Once I finish my undergraduate degree I plan on pursuing my masters, so my experience with CBFO is helping make my decision of whether I will go into geochemistry or another geological field."