Amanda Werlein, junior at Tennessee Tech University, divides her time between the chemistry lab, where she works with metals with low levels of radioactivity, and the practice room, where she plays euphonium and belongs to the tuba ensemble.
This summer, she will take her experience with radiochemistry to one of the top programs in the country, where she will work with top chemists in the best labs. She is one of 12 students across the country accepted to her program.
“I took a nuclear and radiochemistry class and I fell in love with it,” said Werlein, from Tullahoma, Tenn. “It sounds dangerous when you first hear about it, but it's not really if you do it correctly. Just like everything else in life.”
She came to TTU as a music major, then switched to chemistry with the intention to “make money” in pharmaceuticals. On the way, she took the nuclear and radiochemistry class and changed her plans.
“I was enjoying the class so much that I just couldn’t get away from it. It was the first class I actually studied for fun.”
Werlein said she hopes to work in environmental remediation one day. Already, she is researching ways to remove dangerous heavy metals, like nickel, cadmium and mercury, from water using various chemicals and low levels of radioactivity. Those skills helped her prepare for one of the most competitive summer chemistry programs in the nation.
The National Nuclear Chemistry Summer School program happens at two sites every year: SUNY Stony Brook and San Jose State University. Another TTU student, chemical engineering senior Nadia Amro, of Clarksville, Tenn., will attend the San Jose program.
The two are not the first TTU students to attend the programs, sponsored by the American Chemical Society and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Since 2002, 14 TTU students have gone to one of the two program sites.
“The program directors realize that our students have a good overall preparation,” said Dale Ensor, professor of chemistry emeritus who also teaches TTU’s radiochemistry course. “In these programs, you’re dealing with some of the brightest juniors and seniors around. It speaks well of Tech that our students can go in and compete.”
During her six weeks at Stony Brook and Brookhaven National Laboratory, Werlein will listen to lectures, work on experiments and visit research sites with top scientists. She and the other students in the program are already being encouraged to do more original research. They have been promised help in applying for graduate programs as well.
“It’s an honor. As you go through classes, sometimes you make bad grades and it can be really disheartening,” Werlein said. “Getting into a program like this is a message that someone has faith in me and believes I can do something.”
In addition to a strong chemistry program, TTU is known as Tennessee’s STEM university. With leading programs in engineering and the sciences, the university also incorporates technology into all of its more than 40 undergraduate programs.