Alum heads to Los Alamos lab on prestigious fellowship

Alum heads to Los Alamos lab on prestigious fellowship


Cecilia Eiroa Lledo '15, a chemistry Ph.D. candidate at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash., was awarded a prestigious Seaborg Fellowship to conduct research in nuclear chemistry at Los Alamos National Laboratory this coming summer.

“There is no more compelling evidence for the quality of Cecilia's undergraduate education at Concordia than for her to have succeeded so spectacularly in graduate school and to have received such a prestigious research fellowship in direct competition with the very best graduate students in the country,” says Dr. John Kenney, CUI professor of chemistry and chemical physics.

When I decided to do environmental chemistry, I knew I wanted to help the world in whatever way I could.

Seaborg fellowships give students an opportunity to join Los Alamos scientists for three months in independent research projects that can contribute to the students’ thesis or advanced degree. Fellows participate in a weekly lecture series and are expected to present their research results at a poster session at the end of the summer experience, according to the Los Alamos website. The program is sponsored by the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security and the G. T. Seaborg Institute for Transactinium Science.

“I hope to get more knowledge in the field of radiochemistry so I can decide what I want to do after I graduate in a year from now,” Cecilia says.

At Washington State, Cecilia studies the chemistry of radioactive elements, specifically a man-made element called technetium, a byproduct of uranium fission, which exists almost exclusively in nuclear plants. The goal: to discover how technetium interacts with salts in the environment so that if it leaks into the soil, scientists will know how to clean it up.

“When I decided to do environmental chemistry, I knew I wanted to help the world in whatever way I could,” Cecilia says. “So little is known about this metal. I love doing radioactive work no one has done before. It’s fulfilling to know you are the first person to look at some data or figure out a process.”

I would never have thought that I would work at such a prestigious institution [like Los Alamos] before all the inspiration I received from the Kenneys.

At Los Alamos she hopes “to do something new and a little bit different.” It may involve nuclear forensics and studying what type of radioactivity is left in the environment after a nuclear accident or detonation.

One goal of the fellowship is to give students a glimpse of what it’s like to work in a national lab. National labs are a major employer of people with degrees in radiochemistry or nuclear chemistry.

Cecilia’s path began in a general chemistry class at Concordia with Professor Inga Kenney.

“She was such an amazing teacher that it affirmed that I wanted to do chemistry,” Cecilia says.

Dr. Ken Ebel’s class on the philosophy of the sciences “really taught you how to defend your faith as a scientist and how those two worlds, though viewed as separate, really are not,” Cecilia says. “Science was started by Christians trying to figure out the world God created for us.”

At the end of four years, Cecilia “really felt like Dr. and Professor Kenney were my adoptive science parents. I did research with them but they also helped me with my personal life and faith...Going to Concordia, your faith and the path God chose for you as a scientist are not seen as contrary to one another."

Dr. John Kenney says that virtually all science students at CUI now are engaged in research at a significant level.

“Our facilities and equipment inventory have grown exponentially,” he says. “We have summer institutes for high school students and very high-ability Concordia students studying to get degrees in these disciplines. Virtually all do extended research projects over many semesters.”

“Concordia’s professors are amazing,” Cecilia says. “They take care of their students so well and they know where you fit. I would never have thought that I would work at such a prestigious institution [like Los Alamos] before all the inspiration I received from the Kenneys.”

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