Analytical chemist gets driver's seat in nuclear safeguards
Dr. William Hardy has several professional goals: to become more proficient in nuclear chemistry, to build a more robust technical background, and to establish and maintain a network of professional colleagues, researchers, and scientists. He also wants to mentor young scientists, publish scientific papers, patent new inventions and eventually become an administrator in a national lab.
He’s well on his way.
Hardy, a participant in the ORAU-administered Savannah River National Laboratory Postdoctoral Research Associate Program, has always wanted to work at a national lab, and his ongoing research has only deepened that want.
A doctoral graduate in analytical chemistry from the University of Florida (UF) and now a full-time temporary employee at the lab, Hardy has been able to apply his academic focus area of nanomaterials to three separate projects with national and global importance. And he has been able to do it in the presence of SRNL’s welcoming and diverse scientific community.
“The SRNL staff has impressed me with their ingenuity, scholarship, and cordiality,” said Hardy, who applied to the post-doc program after working collaboratively with SRNL staff as a graduate student at UF. “My colleagues have adopted me and respected me as a fellow scientist, intellectual and friend.”
Now into his second year of the extendable program, and under the mentorship of senior scientist Dr. Lindsay Sexton, Hardy is well-accustomed to the multi-faceted discipline of international nuclear safeguards and security. His research involves an intersection of science and policy, an aspect that makes it particularly relevant to national defense and security.
“The goal of my research is to advance technologies and concepts relating to the next generation of safeguards initiatives. Nuclear Safeguards are measures used to verify that countries comply with their international obligations not to use nuclear materials for non-peaceful purposes,” said Hardy. “Before pursuing this research, I didn’t realize how much of a role nuclear science and radiochemistry plays in politics. The production of a small research reactor could lead to groundbreaking research, but it could also led to manufacturing a weapon of mass destruction. Thus, the transport of nuclear material must be stringently monitored, controlled, and appropriately accounted.”
Hardy is tasked with conceiving, modeling, designing, and testing solutions to international safeguards technology gaps in addition to advancing and improving technologies that address energy-related technical problems. To that end, he is developing a nanomaterial-based anode for neutron detection, developing a nanomaterial-based battery for betavoltaics, and modeling and evaluating the benefits of using an ion-exchange resin for removing plutonium, a byproduct of nuclear fission, from nuclear waste. These projects should improve efficiencies across the nuclear power spectrum.
Hardy’s appointment is sponsored by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Next Generation Safeguards Initiative (NGSI), and has enhanced his technical skills and improved his rapport with fellow scientists. He considers the program uniquely suited for smoothing the transition from academia to federal research and industry.
“I believe this experience is playing a significant role in my career development,” said Hardy. “To other participants, I say be patient, proactive, persistent, organized, and pleasant. People don’t mind going the extra mile for you when you have a good attitude.”
The Postdoctoral Research Associate Program helps advance SRNL’s contributions to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management. Appointments are competitive and are intended to provide an avenue for the participant to publish in peer-reviewed journals, gain experience in multidisciplinary team-based research, and present and communicate research at conferences.