ASU graduate student to explore novel materials with Seaborg Institute Fellowship
Doctoral candidate Gerson Leonel selected for prestigious nuclear science fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratory
Gerson Leonel, a chemical engineering doctoral candidate at Arizona State University, has been selected as a fellow for the 2023 G. T. Seaborg Institute Graduate Research Program. This prestigious scholarship will support Leonel’s 12-week trip to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to advance his studies in nuclear science.
Leonel’s interest in engineering began at a young age when he discovered how individual things can come together for a new purpose, becoming something greater than the sum of their parts. That curiosity propelled him to research the composition and structure of novel materials.
He began his academic career in chemical engineering studying porous materials for nuclear waste management as an undergraduate student researcher for Di Wu, an assistant professor for the Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering at Washington State University. As Leonel prepared for graduate school, Wu recommended that he connect with his own mentor, Alexandra Navrotsky, a Regents Professor in the School of Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Navrotsky is also a faculty member in ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences and is affiliated with the School of Earth and Space Exploration.
Leonel pursued his graduate studies with Navrotsky at ASU in the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe, the largest thermodynamics laboratory in the world.
“Working with Navrotsky has helped me be more confident as both a person and scientist,” Leonel says. “I believe that such confidence is necessary, especially when dealing with failure, which is often just an obstacle on the way to success in science.”
Leonel will spend his summer fellowship working with Hongwu Xu, a professor for the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU and senior scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, to study the structure, composition and thermodynamic stability of nuclear substances.
The Seaborg Fellowship aims to cultivate the next generation of researchers in nuclear engineering and is supporting Leonel’s study of a rare class of nuclear substances called actinides, a relatively understudied group of elements due to the extensive security features required to handle radioactive materials. The mysteries behind actinides are what drew Leonel’s ambition and curiosity. He enjoys the journey behind science and aspires to become a professor with his own research lab.
“My Ph.D. journey has been filled with uncertainty and numerous challenges,” Leonel says. “Still, I know that I am doing something that I am passionate about, and to me, that is what matters most. Especially if I get to learn from inspiring and innovative people like Navrotsky and Xu.”