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August 2, 2023

Graduate student receives UNLP fellowship

Written By: Samantha Vold


Nuclear Engineering & Engineering Physics PhD student Kailee Buttice received a University Nuclear Leadership Program fellowship, sponsored by the Department of Energy.

Buttice is a member of the MAterials Degradation under COrrosion and Radiation (MADCOR) research group, led by Associate Professor Adrien Couet. Broadly, the group studies the degradation and corrosion of materials in advanced reactor environments. Buttice will be focusing her PhD research on the basicity of molten fluoride salts to better understand how it effects the corrosion of structural alloy elements in a nuclear reactor. By measuring the free fluoride ions in the molten salts using spectroscopy, the goal of Buttice’s research is to generate a basicity scale, similar to that of the standard pH scale. The scale can then be used to measure how aggressively the molten salt will corrode metal alloys.

Nuclear chemistry wasn’t always in the cards for Buttice, however. She started off at the University of Tennessee in biomedical engineering, but realized it wasn’t the best fit. She decided to return to the Midwest and transferred to DePaul University to major in chemistry. Through a partnership with the Illinois Institute of Technology, she was also able to complete a chemical engineering program. During her senior year of undergraduate, Buttice had the opportunity to attend a nuclear chemistry summer school program sponsored by the Department of Energy. These classes caught her attention, and she realized she was interested in nuclear chemistry. In this field, Buttice felt like she could really make a difference in some way, so she applied to graduate school.

Kailee Buttice working in the lab
Buttice working in a glove box.

The fellowship Buttice received provides her with a stipend as well as pays for her tuition. She will also have funding to travel to conferences where she can share her research with other members of the field and network. As a requirement of accepting the fellowship, Buttice will also complete an internship with a national lab.

Buttice says receiving the fellowship provides validation that she can succeed in this field. She says, “People believe that I can do things, especially people at the Department of Energy who award this fellowship.” It also provides her with a feeling that the work she’s doing is important. Molten salt reactors are still in early research stages – they’re not yet commercialized. Receiving the fellowship shows that the DoE is interested in this research, and they want to pursue it.

“I’m very honored and proud to have the fellowship,” Buttice says.