November 2022 Edition

Laura Jamison, Principal Nuclear Engineer, CFCT

Nuclear engineer Laura Jamison is fearless. Or, at least, she has gotten very good at overcoming fears.

For example, consider her line of work. Growing up in the 1980s, “clean, green energy” was not the first thing that popped into most people’s minds when they heard the word “nuclear.” Today, she provides technical leadership and experimental expertise to the fuel development and qualification campaign of the U.S. High Performance Research Reactor (USHPRR) conversion program, which is sponsored by NNSA-DNN Office of Materials Management and Minimization.

Or consider her recreational pastime: playing hockey, primarily as goalie. Deflecting fast-flying hockey pucks might not be the safest, most relaxing place that comes to mind when one thinks about unwinding from work. But for Jamison, neither of those things are scary. She loves both.

“When I was growing up, nuclear was a scary word,” said Jamison, who earned her doctorate in Materials Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “However, I became interested in nuclear engineering as the most complex environment a material will ever be in: chemical reactions, thermal gradients, and constant rearrangement at the atomic level, all occurring at once. As I learned more about nuclear power, the advantages of it as a carbon-free power source further increased my interest in the field.”

Now, she works to advance nuclear non-proliferation through fuel development and qualification in Argonne’s Chemical and Fuel Cycle Technologies division. She contributes to the European High Flux Reactor conversion program, a program that converts research reactors using high-enriched uranium into ones that use low-enriched uranium fuel. She also works under the NNSA in the Proliferation Resistance and Optimization of Research Reactors (PRO-RR) program.

“I love the broad impact my work has,” Jamison said. “My focus may be on completing a specific experiment in the lab, or researching a particular material property, but the result of that work can have impact across the United States and the world.”

Jamison also finds satisfaction in simple completion of work tasks or activities, but this entails deliberate suppression of another common fear: Missing a work email.

“I turn off email notifications on my phone so there is no temptation to check,” she said. “I truly step away from work on my days off.”

This strategy, along with the physical exertion of hockey, helps her award herself much-needed mental breaks from work.

Her advice to young female women scientists is to seek out mentoring organizations, be willing to jump into new projects and be flexible about roles. Also, rely on colleagues and don’t feel you have to know everything in order to get involved.

“No one knows everything,” said Jamison.