Sue Brannon Clark, a Battelle fellow at PNNL and regents professor at WSU, is the 2020 recipient of the Glenn T. Seaborg Award for Nuclear Chemistry from the American Chemical Society (ACS).

An internationally renowned leader in nuclear chemistry, Clark’s outstanding career-long contributions include advancing innovation in nuclear safeguards and forensics, developing landmark nuclear research capabilities, working toward resolving the national legacy of radioactive waste.

Clark’s recent research has focused on the chemistry needed to retrieve high-level radioactive waste from the Hanford waste tanks. The results are being used to enable start-up of waste processing at Hanford, as early as 2022. Her research on uranium and associated actinides and fission products will enable safe disposal of commercial spent nuclear fuel once a geologic disposal facility is identified.

“In addition to her outstanding research record, Sue has dedicated her career to building the pipeline of future radiochemists. Thanks to her leadership and vision, WSU stands out as one of only a handful of universities nationwide to provide both undergraduate and graduate degrees in radiochemistry. Her achievements are extraordinary and it’s wonderful to see her recognized,” said Christopher Keane, vice president for research.

Nathalie Wall, a former WSU chemistry faculty colleague, noted one of Clark’s most lasting contributions to radiochemistry is “her determined engagement” to ensure the nation has a pipeline of students, faculty, and scientists involved in nuclear chemistry.

“The need to develop exciting career pathways for junior scientists and engineers into fields such as nuclear forensics and nuclear safeguards remains critical,” Wall wrote in a letter of recommendation for the award.

Strength through science

Following the September 2001 terrorist attacks, Clark was one of the scientific leaders called upon to address worldwide concerns about nuclear materials security. In particular, Clark’s policy work focused on strengthening both academic radiochemistry programs and radioanalytical chemistry applications for the U.S. government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). She also co-authored several National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports for Congress on the need to increase training opportunities for radiochemists.

In 2011, President Barack Obama appointed Clark to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB), where she served until 2015. In that post, she reviewed the U.S. Department of Energy’s programs for managing the nation’s high-level radioactive waste and commercial spent nuclear fuel, as well as waste disposal site selection. She also provided valuable insight about the management of high-level radioactive waste around the world.

Multifaceted leadership

“This recognition by the ACS is actually a tribute to all of my former students, postdocs, visiting scientists, and my collaborators at PNNL, WSU, and beyond,” Clark said. “The opportunity to work with such fantastic people and learn from them has been incredibly rewarding.”

During her more than 23 years as a WSU faculty member, she has served as chemistry department chair, interim dean, and interim vice chancellor, and successfully guided more than 27 graduate students to their doctoral or master’s degrees. WSU awarded Clark the 2014 Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for Outreach and Engagement to recognize her wide range of service. She began a joint appointment with PNNL in 2015, expanding upon her long-time collaboration with PNNL researchers.

In addition to her academic and research portfolio, Clark is the chief science and technology officer for the Energy and Environment Directorate, and director of the Interfacial Dynamics in Radioactive Environments and Materials (IDREAM) Energy Frontier Research Center at PNNL, which focuses on the foundational science needed to accelerate the processing of high-level radioactive waste.

ACS honors

“With her research spanning from national security to environmental cleanup solutions, Sue Clark truly embodies the spirit and leadership this award represents,” said Allison Campbell, ACS past president and a PNNL associate laboratory director. “Glenn Seaborg conducted groundbreaking nuclear chemistry research that influenced developments in nuclear medicine, nuclear power, and nuclear disarmament efforts. For Sue to be recognized in his name is an honor indeed.”

She has been a member of ACS, the world’s largest professional scientific society, since 1984. In addition to holding several leadership positions with the organization, she received the ACS Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal in 2012 for her contributions to understanding the chemistry that governs the behavior of actinides in the environment and her tireless efforts to bring gender diversity to university chemistry departments.

Clark will receive the Seaborg award and give a technical address—“Radiochemistry and its applications in radioactive waste management and nuclear security”— at the ACS spring 2020 national meeting in Philadelphia in March.