Undergraduate advances sealed source database through creation of forensics-related company, country profiles

Denise Williams

As a junior, double majoring in forensic science and chemistry at the University of New Haven, Denise Williams wanted a first-hand look at what a chemist really does. She found it through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) HS-STEM (homeland security related science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Summer Internship Program. This program provides students in STEM disciplines opportunities to conduct research in DHS mission-relevant areas at federal facilities across the country.

Although her project was not directly related to her studies, Williams learned a lot about herself and the different research opportunities that could interest her post-graduation.

“I never thought much about nuclear research until my participation in this program,” she said. “I am always looking for experience related to my studies. Because I do not know exactly what I would like to specialize in at graduate school, this exposure to various subjects was key.”

At Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Williams joined David Chamberlain and Jodi Canaday, her mentors, in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division. She provided support to the International Sealed Source Database (ISSD) program, which is creating a database of forensics information on sealed radioactive sources that are produced in many countries worldwide.

Williams collected open-source data from the Internet on both domestic and international radioactive source manufacturers and distributors for the ISSD program. More specifically, she searched for forensics-related information, such as dimensions, capsule materials of construction, and which research and power reactors were used, on the products of these companies. Using this information, she developed company and country-specific profiles, which can be used in tracing a radiological sealed source to its last legal owner.

Aside from the professional development she gained through her participation, Williams also appreciated the inviting atmosphere that ANL provides.

“My favorite parts of the program are the seminars and the ‘community feel’ of ANL that offer a great, well-rounded experience,” she said. “There are several weekly seminars about different topics some just about a specific project and others that take the lab’s work and relate it back to its impact on the country and the world that are very informative. There is always something going on here where different people are interacting with one another outside of the work-related interactions. Not only do ANL professionals work together, they also enjoy life together.”

Being able to gain hands-on experience is something Williams believes is important for all students. By applying the knowledge obtained in the classroom Williams says, a person can gain new perspective on why they like that field, or the information could lead to a new interest to explore.

“Education should be more than just textbooks and classrooms,” she explained. “The DHS HS-STEM Summer Internship Program offers insight into various jobs so that one may explore and determine a career path that is both interesting and desirable.”

The HS-STEM Summer Internship Program is funded by DHS and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.