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Washington State University

A vision far into the future

WSU materials science student and Goldwater awardee seeks to understand nuclear waste.

A vision far into the future

WSU materials science student and Goldwater awardee seeks to understand nuclear waste.

A college degree might take a few years, but John Bussey’s quest looks tens of thousands of years into the future.

Bussey, a Washington State University sophomore from Olympia, wants to better understand materials involved in nuclear waste storage in order to safeguard human health and the environment for over 100,000 years. It adds to this future researcher’s career goal to design, synthesize, and characterize novel materials that can help address nuclear waste, climate change, and other environmental sustainability issues.

He is an Honors College student majoring in materials science engineering, minoring in environmental and resource economics and mathematics, and seeking a nuclear materials certificate. His undergraduate research mentors include John McCloy, Marc Weber, and Jacob Leachman at WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and Brian Wright at Olympia High School.

In line with his goals, Bussey’s summer internship is at the Consortium for Risk Evaluation with Stakeholder Participation at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he is studying materials for safe disposal of nuclear waste.

Bussey also received a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship this year, along with WSU students Kalli Stephens and Thomas Ballinger. They each received $7,500 awards to support their education, said April Seehafer, director of the WSU Distinguished Scholarships Program.

A Distinguished Regents Scholar, Bussey chose to attend WSU after meeting with McCloy and seeing the opportunities WSU could offer. Plus, his Cougar parents met in front of Honors Hall, where Bussey has lived his entire time at WSU. His father, Troy (’94 BS and ’96 MS, both in chemical engineering) works for Pioneer Technologies Corp., and his mother, Carie (Ingold) pursued pre-nursing studies at WSU and today works for Olympia Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bussey spent his freshman year living in Honors Hall and taking classes remotely, but he often went to the nearby Nuclear, Optical, Magnetic, and Electronic Materials Laboratory where he spent time distanced from others while researching the recuse of end-of-life cathode-ray-tube glass and performed thermal analysis to investigate the ability of “caged” minerals to capture radioactive iodine. More recently, he has focused on characterizing glass used to safely store nuclear waste, including examination with 3D X-ray nano-computed tomography at the Institute of Materials Research.

He also joined an undergraduate team investigating the use of liquid nitrogen to clean dust from spacesuits; they used Mt. St. Helens volcanic ash from the 1980 eruption to simulate lunar dust. For their groundbreaking efforts, the team won the prestigious Artemis Award from NASA and a $124,000 grant in 2021 that Bussey helped write.

When not in classes or researching, Bussey busies himself as a delegate and recruitment chair of the President’s Council of Student Advisors for The American Ceramic Society, and at WSU as an ambassador for the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture and facilitator for Honors 198 (Honors First Year Experience) and 298 (Approaches to Global Leadership) courses. He also serves as treasurer and blacksmith-forge builder for the Materials Advantage Club, and as an officer of the Honors Student Advisory Council, among other opportunities.

The Goldwater Scholarship was welcome support for his research goals.

“Receiving the Goldwater is certainly an honor for me, plus it recognizes that environmental sustainability is a critical issue for our collective future that requires advanced research. It’s a vindication of the work I’ve been doing,” said Bussey. “I’m excited to see what the next few years of my education holds and the Goldwater enables me to double down on my efforts.”

The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation announced the WSU awards this summer. Goldwater said 417 awards were made to U.S. college students—308 to natural sciences majors, 64 to engineering majors, and 45 to math and computer science majors.

Prestigious, nationally competitive Goldwater awards are given to high-achieving undergraduates intending to pursue careers in math, the natural sciences, or engineering (STEM). These latest awardees bring WSU’s total number of Goldwater recipients to 48 since the first in 1990.

“WSU has established a strong set of Goldwater awardees over the years, and the addition of this year’s recipients reinforces that tradition,” said Seehafer. Her program is part of the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement in the provost’s office.

Stephens, a senior from Hurricane, Utah, who also received a Goldwater award, is majoring in genetics and cell biology. She is a member of the inaugural cohort of students in the National Institutes of Health-funded Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC)-WSU, a two-year program of scientific research, leadership development, and graduate-school preparation. Her mentors are the School of Molecular Biology’s (SMB) Joy Winuthayanon, Assistant Vice Provost Mary Sánchez Lanier, and Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience’s Samantha Gizerian.

Kalli Stephens in a lab
Kalli Stephens

Ballinger, the third WSU Goldwater recipient for 2022, is a junior from Reno, Nevada, who is majoring in genetics and cell biology as well as music. He is in the School of Molecular Biosciences’ Students Targeted Toward Advanced Research Studies (STARS) program, which allows undergraduates to earn an accelerated Bachelor of Science degree in three years—including research rotations and mentorship–and move into a doctorate path. His mentors include SMB’s Cynthia Hazeltine, Vice Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Achievement William B. Davis, the Institute of Biological Chemistry’s Philip D. Bates, the School of  Music’s Yoon-Wha (YUNA) Roh, and his Reno piano teacher Jeff DePaoli.

Thomas Ballinger sits at a piano
Thomas Ballinger

Beverly Makhani