Skip to main content

Radioactive summer school inspires Nate Rutter BS’24 to research sustainable solutions to store and dispose of nuclear waste

by Melanie Moyer,

Nate Rutter

This summer, Nate Rutter BS’24 attended nuclear chemistry summer school at Brookhaven National Lab, a U.S. Department of Energy lab in Long Island, New York. His journey with the American Chemical Society and the DOE-sponsored program began with an email from professor Karen Holman, his inorganic chemistry professor-slash-rockstar, encouraging students to look into the highly selective program at the world-famous lab. “I realized that the opportunity to study and live at a lab for a short period of time doesn’t come every day,” he shares, prompting him to apply.

Nate RutterAt Brookhaven, Rutter and 11 other students spent six weeks engaging with nuclear chemistry lectures, researching radioactive molecules, and connecting with experts. Lessons ranged from back-calculating a proper dose of radioactivity in cancer treatment to understanding nuclear chemistry in the universe — something he says is “wildly fascinating, but also very complex for the non-physicist.”

In the lab, his class ran hydroxide precipitation reactions and chemical separations to help improve nuclear waste disposal and environmental testing for radioactive atoms. Rutter, as a result, is hooked.

“My independent research project focused on the treatment of nuclear waste,” he says, noting that he concentrated on the United States’s need to conduct a major overhaul of its current policies and processes in disposing and recycling wastes.

Rutter’s experiences at Willamette and Brookhaven have inspired him to pursue a PhD in the field. “My goal is to solve current dilemmas with nuclear waste disposal, implement strategies used by European countries, and help create long-term safe solutions to nuclear waste storage,” he says. Several doctoral programs have already begun actively recruiting him due to his participation at Brookhaven.

Rutter is up for the challenge — and he’s benefited from strong relationships with Willamette’s faculty and staff every step of the way. He is currently wrapping up research with Chemistry professor Chuck Williamson investigating the phase behavior of liquids and solids. He also tutors and serves as a teaching assistant for chemistry classes and works in the chemistry stockroom learning from chemical hygiene officer Todd Melgreen. This year, Rutter plans to change his research focus to organic chemistry, studying anti-oxidants and drug-delivery polymers under Professor Andrew Duncan. Rutter believes that the hands-on experience he’s received at Willamette paired with knowledge from Brookhaven positions him as a future leader of sustainable nuclear energy research.

Related Stories

View All
Willamette University

Student cancer research takes top prizes from doubleheader conferences

03.14.2024 | Melanie Moyer

Chemistry students spend their summers learning how to conduct innovative research while developing impressive research presentation skills.

Willamette University

Living in a materials science world: Professor Robert Macfarlane BA’04 treasures what he learned at Willamette

12.06.2023 | Linda Lenhoff

The associate professor at MIT, whose work has implications for climate and sustainability, energy, health, medicine, technology, and other fields, started with a degree in Biochemistry from Willamette.

Willamette University

Chemistry Rockstar puts a twist on teaching with Twitch

04.12.2023 | Linda Lenhoff

Chemistry professor keeps herself busy with numerous passions– everything from punk music to chemistry–and now she’s created a Twitch channel to teach chemistry to those who believe equations=anxiety.

Willamette University

University Communications

Waller Hall, Fourth Floor
Willamette University
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.