John Ahern ’10 joins Los Alamos National Laboratory as staff scientist
Working as a scientist at this national security-focused lab, he leverages his knowledge around elements to help the U.S. government safely process aging plutonium so it can be suitable for later use. This work also decreases the volume and therefore the cost of disposing of high-activity, residue-laden waste, according to Ahern.
“I am incredibly fortunate and proud to be able to conduct this research in service of the nation. My work has yielded publications and patent filings that have real-world applications, which I believe will improve the safety and security of America and its citizens,” he said.
Ahern, who majored in environmental science at Wheaton, joined Los Alamos National Laboratory in June 2016 some time after obtaining his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Maine. As part of his studies in Maine, he also looked to lessen environmental impacts of toxic substances—but in that work, hazardous pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals in water were the targets.
“Many of these contaminants, such as synthetic estrogen, can pose a threat to aquatic and amphibious species even at low concentrations,” he said.
After completing his doctorate, Ahern conducted research at the National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) in the Greater Pittsburgh area. There, he studied rare earth elements—a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table—that are used in modern electronics, including cell phones, cars and wind turbines. [Read more...]