Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Meena Said

Actinide Chemist

Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division

July 7, 2020

What do you like about working at the Lab?

Being a part of LLNL, simply as an intern, has been an amazing experience both professionally and scientifically. I had the opportunity to intern at the Lab as a Seaborg fellow last summer, and I’m currently participating in a virtual LLNL internship. The Lab itself is such a cool place because it contains some of the best and brightest minds. Not to mention, Livermore (& California) itself is a neat place to live.

What do your day-to-day work activities include?

Currently, my internship experience is unique because it is virtual. My day-to-day consists of Excel spreadsheets and relating vast amounts of data relevant to nuclear forensics. Finding an effective way to store, manage, and query the data is what I am currently working on for the Lab. Last year, when I was working at the Lab, a typical day included method development and subsequent measurements of fuel pellets using optical profilometry and digital microscopy.

What is one project you’re really proud to have worked on?

The internship I conducted at the Lab was very transformative for my graduate school career, as I was able to take a step back from my dissertation work and travel to the Lab. My project aim was to create a methodology for measuring the surface roughness on fuel pellets using optical techniques. For nuclear forensic science, this work could provide clarification on the usefulness of surface roughness as a forensic signature. With the help of my mentor, Naomi Marks, I was able to conduct this research from start to finish. I felt confident in the skills I had learned in my first few years of graduate school and was able to really enjoy the process.

What is your educational or career background?

I got my BS in geology at Lock Haven University, and I am currently pursuing my PhD in earth sciences at the University of Notre Dame. My dissertation work focuses on the microscopy and spectroscopy of solid-state actinide materials. I was accepted as a Seaborg fellow last year and loved it so much that I knew I wanted to come back for a second summer. My hope is to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at the Lab after graduation.

What inspired you to go into your field of work?

As a geology major in undergrad, I became keenly fascinated with all things nuclear energy. It was at a national geology conference that I met my now PhD advisor, Amy Hixon, who led me down a path I did not even know existed at the time: nuclear forensics. In a way, some of what has happened in my early career has been a bit serendipitous. With that said, I have always loved microscopy and the idea of characterizing the macroscopic appearance and microstructure of materials. Funny enough, I still get to use scanning electron microscopy in graduate school, just as I did in undergrad.

What advice would you give to a new employee at the Lab?

As a (returning) intern, my advice would be never to lose your enthusiasm, and take any opportunity to learn about what goes on at the Lab other than your own research. There are awesome tours available to interns and from my experience, everyone is always so nice.

What do you do in your free time?

I love to travel. The national parks, specifically the Grand Tetons, is probably my favorite place in the world. Italy also has a special place in my heart because I love the food (& the wine). I watch Harry Potter at least once a week, and I enjoy strength training.