RICHLAND, Wash. – Fascinated by chemistry, Jose Marcial started a summer internship as a high school senior with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and EM’s Office of River Protection (ORP) in 2009 to learn about potential real life applications for his science courses.
His involvement in the Hanford cleanup mission introduced him to a new world of science, afforded him with a community of mentors, and highlighted the magnitude of the challenges surrounding nuclear waste vitrification at the site. Vitrification involves combining waste from underground tanks with glass-forming materials and then heating the mixture to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I grew up locally, but had no idea how the scope of the work here at Hanford can implement such positive and direct impacts on the regional community. I knew it was important,” Marcial said.
The internship inspired him to consider waste vitrification research as a profession — an intimidating prospect at the time.
“I was a first-generation college student,” Marcial said. “Thinking about attending a university and obtaining a degree was daunting.”
Marcial attended Washington State University (WSU) and studied materials science and engineering, returning to Hanford as an intern each summer for the next several years. His mentors, including ORP glass scientist Albert Kruger, supported him by offering advice throughout college and encouraged him to pursue graduate studies.
“There are few greater pleasures than those that come from watching the progression of a student into an accomplished contributor in such an important domain of endeavors,” Kruger said.
Marcial dove into the discipline of vitrification and completed his doctoral studies at WSU in 2017, performing research that has taken him all over the world. From attending an international glass science school in Brazil to presenting at a physics conference in France, he has sought opportunities and expertise to better understand how to prevent crystallization to maintain the long-term durability of nuclear waste glass.
In September, he will start a postdoctoral appointment at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, as part of a collaborative research effort between PNNL and the Czech Republic.
“The Czech Republic is a leader in commercial glass vitrification,” Marcial said. “There are concepts we can derive from their process to refine our own approaches to waste vitrification.”
Marcial has advice for this year’s summer interns.
“Be open to learning new things, and ask questions. People do not expect you to know everything. Don’t hesitate to knock on people’s doors,” Marcial said. “Also, don’t let the little things hold you back. The only thing I had on my resume was lawn care before I came here. You can accomplish so much more than you think.”