Student makes mark at Oak Ridge lab

A Western Carolina University student who completed an internship in the national security field of nuclear forensics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., last summer will make a return visit to that area this June to give a presentation about his work.

Jeffrey Edward Lux, a Raleigh native who is working toward his master’s degree in chemistry at WCU, was one of three university students in the nation chosen to participate in the first year of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Nuclear Forensics Undergraduate Scholarship Program.

Jeffrey Edward Lux

The program was created to introduce outstanding physics, chemistry and nuclear engineering students to nuclear forensics-related research at national laboratories. The three students received a scholarship and an opportunity to participate in a summer internship under the guidance of a senior laboratory mentor and a university faculty adviser.

Nuclear forensics involves the collection, analysis and evaluation of pre-detonation (intact) and post-detonation (exploded) radiological or nuclear materials, devices and debris. Security officials believe that improving the ability to trace the origin of nuclear materials will help discourage countries from allowing their materials to fall into the hands of rogue nations or terrorists.

Lux, the son of Linda Lux of Raleigh and the late Ken Lux, graduated from Leesville Road High School and enrolled at WCU in fall 2004. Working with WCU associate professor of chemistry Bill Kwochka, Lux applied for the internship program last spring as he was finishing academic work to receive his bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Following graduation, Lux headed to Oak Ridge in June to participate in the 10-week internship.

“My work at Oak Ridge focused on the creation of a thermophoretic precipitator, a device designed to collect and analyze microscopic particles from the air,” Lux said. “After doing some research, I created a rough schematic and drafted it out, and then worked with an engineer to put it in a three-dimensional program to make it possible for it to be manufactured.”

Lux began academic work for his master’s degree at WCU in the fall, and in December he went back to Oak Ridge with Kwochka to join the other two participating students in presenting research results in a meeting of faculty advisers, laboratory mentors and representatives of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. Lux has been invited to present his research again during an Academic Laboratory Collaboration Meeting sponsored by Homeland Security that will be held at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge in June.

Lux is on schedule to receive his master’s degree in chemistry at WCU in May, and his long-term plans are to pursue a career in nuclear forensics or nuclear energy. He has been awarded a research fellowship to begin the doctoral program in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville next fall.

“Jeff is very intelligent, a creative problem-solver and has a natural curiosity about many things,” Kwochka said. “These traits have served him well in research at WCU and during his internship last summer. I look forward to following his career.”