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ORNL Undergraduate Research Profile: Ryan Veatch

CCI participant gains confidence in lab while improving scintillator technology


ORNL Intern Ryan Veatch

Community College Internship participant, Ryan Veatch, used his interest in materials science and engineering to advance studies relating to scintillator technology in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Chemical Science Division.

Fascinated with the idea of changing the properties of a material, Ryan Veatch felt like a kid with building blocks when he arrived at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). As part of the Community College Internship (CCI) program, Veatch spent his summer gaining real-world experience alongside experts in materials science and engineering, his field of study.

The CCI program, sponsored by the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists, provides community college students opportunities to experience technical research at national laboratories. The CCI program at ORNL is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Alongside Group Leader of Materials Chemistry, Dr. Parans Paranthaman, in the Chemical Sciences Division at ORNL, Veatch assisted with the development of scintillators with greater light yields. Scintillators produce light after absorbing a neutron and are often used as security scanning and medical imaging technologies. Prior to his participation in the program, Veatch had never heard of a neutron scintillator. During his time at ORNL, he made at least two scintillators each day.

Because inorganic scintillators can respond to energetic particles, such as neutrons, they become essential for neutron-measuring devices at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source and Second Target Station facilities.

The experiments did not always occur according to plan; however, Veatch viewed each situation as an educational experience.

“My mentor taught me what kind of questions to ask and what to look for while doing experiments,” Veatch explained. “I thought it was exciting that we could still learn so much from mistakes and undesired results.”

In a competition among 200-plus undergraduates, Ryan was selected as one of six students to receive a “Best Poster” award for the display of his project findings. Results obtained from his research will be submitted for publication in the near future.

After his research program, the Santa Fe College graduate will attend the University of Florida to obtain a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering. Ultimately, Veatch hopes to obtain a doctorate degree and continue to research, particularly environmental materials problems. His experience as a CCI participant allowed him to explore new scientific concepts, enhance his research skills and gain confidence with laboratory technologies.

“Before this project, I had little to no experience in a lab setting,” Veatch said. “Now I feel confident that I have a strong foundation of lab skills and safety.”