DHS TSL chemist reflects on past with ORISE Meet Alicia Broderick

DHS TSL chemist reflects on past with ORISE

Left: Alicia Broderick, during her internship with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL) Visiting Scientist Program in 2010.

Right: Alicia Broderick in the Trace Laboratory in the Applied Research Division (ARD) of the TSL in 2021.

For Alicia Broderick, Ph.D., current federal research chemist, much of her career success can be traced back to the time she spent as an intern in the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) research participation program. Though she always knew she wanted a career in chemistry research, it was her internship experience that truly motivated her to pursue that dream.

Broderick’s journey with ORISE began over a decade ago when, as an undergraduate at Stockton University, she participated in a summer internship with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Transportation Security Laboratory (TSL) Visiting Scientist Program.

The DHS TSL program is designed to provide opportunities for research, development and education on DHS mission-relevant science for academics on multiple levels, ranging from undergraduates and graduate students to postdoctoral students and visiting faculty members. The program seeks to enhance the quantity, quality and diversity of the future DHS scientific and engineering workforce.

During her internship, Broderick conducted analytical research for a project designed to support the implementation of shoe-screening detection technology, an important part of airport security checks. Shoe-screening ensures that dangerous materials are not smuggled onto planes through passenger’s shoes; however, the technology is constantly being adapted to ensure both passenger’s safety and convenience. Broderick’s internship included opportunities to collaborate with Ph.D. chemists, learn new laboratory skills and gain valuable experience and connections within her career field.

Broderick enjoyed her experience with ORISE so much, she continued to participate in related research throughout the academic year. She then went on to participate in a second summer internship and a year-long post-baccalaureate fellowship through the DHS TSL program. She continued her analytical research and contributed to a project in support of vapor characterization, which is used to screen objects for any lingering explosives vapor compounds. All of Broderick’s research projects supported the DHS mission and helped improve the safety and security of the nation.

“These research projects directly related to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security mission,” said Broderick. “To date, there is still work being conducted in support of explosive vapor characterization.”

In addition to offering Broderick the chance to be involved in exciting and impactful research, the DHS TSL program also helped her hone her skills as a STEM professional.

“I learned to look at a project from different angles, collect and analyze a lot of data, and write up the results,” Broderick said. “During my internships and fellowship, I attended weekly meetings with staff, wrote several reports and presented my work to the laboratory. All these experiences improved my teamwork skills including problem solving, listening, collaboration, leadership and communication.”

After completing her ORISE appointments, Broderick attended graduate school at the University of Delaware, where she received her doctoral degree in analytical chemistry. Upon graduating, she joined the TSL as a contractor. She currently works as a federal research chemist for the Applied Research Division (ARD) at the TSL.

“I believe everything I learned during my experiences with ORISE shaped me into the scientist I am today,” said Broderick.

“The program also opened up a lot of connections that helped me obtain a career as a federal research chemist. I received my initial job as a contractor due to my experience through the ORISE program at the TSL. I then obtained my current job as a federal research chemist due to the work, both past and present, I conducted at the TSL. I would definitely recommend the ORISE program.”

Broderick’s advice to current students and aspiring STEM professionals?

“Get involved early! I truly believe you should get involved early to gain experience. The ORISE program is a great opportunity for students and researchers to gain experience in a federal research laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment. It personally helped me obtain lifelong connections too.”

The DHS TSL Visiting Scientist Program is funded by DHS HSARPA’s Explosives Division and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.