Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Students Receive DOE Research Awards

Cory Windorff and Justin Pagano received DOE grants to pursue research

The SCGSR program helps graduate students pursue careers

Chemistry Division graduate student Cory Windorff (C-IIAC) has been selected to receive a 2016 DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) award. He is the second Chemistry student to receive this award in recent years. The first, Justin Pagano, received his in 2014. Both Windorff and Pagano are in the Isotope, Inorganic, and Actinide Chemistry Group.

Cory Windorff
Chemistry Division graduate student Cory Windorff (C-IIAC) has been selected to receive a 2016 DOE Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) award.

The SCGSR program helps graduate students pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics in areas critical to DOE missions by providing opportunities at DOE laboratories. It grants funds for awardees to conduct part of their thesis research in collaboration with a DOE scientist for up to a year.

Cory Windorff’s SCGSR award will run for a full year and along with his mentors Dr. Andrew Gaunt and Dr. Stosh Kozimor he will be studying the synthesis and characterization of actinide +2 ions. The +2 oxidation state was recently found for the lanthanides thorium and uranium, and his project will extend the search to plutonium. The purpose of this work with new oxidation states is to expand basic understanding of the elements in terms of their bonding and electronic structure.

Windorff says, “The majority of the lanthanides are considered to only have a +3 state (with a few exceptions), but we have shown the +2 is potentially accessible for all of the available lanthanides. Thorium is primarily +4, +3 is rare, so it was quite surprising to isolate +2. Uranium has a wide range of available oxidation states (+3 to +6), and the +2 has, recently isolated by Evans, has been sought for over 30 years.”

He and his co-workers will be attempting to extend their research to heavier elements and determine if transuranic elements (namely plutonium) can also access the +2 oxidation state. Plutonium seems a likely candidate, as its chemistry is lies between the actinides and the lanthanides. They have been working with a tris-cyclopentadienyl ligand set, [(C5H4SiMe3)3]3-, for all their metals of interest. The team he is on is characterizing the complexes by single crystal X-ray diffraction to obtain the molecular structure. This is important as there are no published structures of organoplutonium molecules, so the nature of the plutonium bond has not been analytically examined, meaning that metal-carbon bond length has yet to be established.

Windorf started at Los Alamos in October of 2015, and he is also working on recording and interpreting X-ray absorption spectroscopy data on actinide molecules. He is studying inorganic chemistry at the University of California-Irvine and he anticipates finishing his PhD in June 2017.

Justin Pagano
Justin Pagano was a 2014 SCGSR winner.

Justin Pagano was a 2014 SCGSR winner. His award work took place at the Laboratory from February 2015 to December 2015 under the mentorship of Dr. Jaqueline Kiplinger. He is currently enrolled at the University of Vermont where he is studying chemistry and anticipates finishing up his Ph.D. in the Fall of 2016.

Pagano received his award to investigate the ability of triamidoamine-supported thorium and uranium complexes with the intent to achieve unique reactivity for main-group bond-forming reactions. However, his work scope broadened significantly and he ended up studying both the use of phenylsilane as a safe alternative to hydrogen gas for the synthesis of actinide hydrides, and the synthesis of actinide metallacycles to compare to transition-metal compounds, which allows for the comparison of "traditional" organometallic chemistry to f-element chemistry to better understand the role of f-orbitals and f-electrons in the electronic structure and bonding of the actinides.

Pagano says that one valuable aspect of the work was the ability to work in a radiation laboratory and handle actinides, capabilities not available at most universities. In his words, “Winning this award has meant the world to my research. I learned so, so much about synthetic chemistry during my time at LANL, especially from Dr. Kiplinger, who is an awesome mentor. The skills and laboratory techniques I learned have really allowed me to power through some new research back here at UVM, and have allowed me to pass this knowledge down to my younger group members. The work I performed last year has already resulted in two first-author publications and a second-author publication, with quite a few more on the horizon, which is incredibly important to my professional growth. Overall, the award was a great experience and I would definitely encourage anyone who is eligible to apply and see what it's like to work in a national lab.”