October 30, 2018

Physicist Recognized for Work Stabilizing Nuclear Waste

Nick Mecholsky, a research scientist for the Vitreous State Laboratory (VSL) at The Catholic University of America, was recognized recently with a Wolfram Research Innovator Award. The project recognized in the award pertains to the optimization of nuclear waste treatment and stabilization processes, which is a project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Mecholsky was one of eight recognized this year at the Wolfram Technology Conference in Champaign, Ill. His award was for “optimizing data mining and database processing for nuclear tank waste.”

“It’s wonderful to see Nick recognized with this award; he’s a talented scientist and a great colleague,” said Ian Pegg, director of VSL. “Since joining VSL, he’s worked in areas as diverse as fundamental materials properties, nuclear physics, and relativity. But what captured Wolfram’s attention was his important work on optimization of nuclear waste treatment processes, which has broad implications for the cost and schedule to address some of our most pressing environmental issues. It’s very satisfying to see some of the groundbreaking work done on campus recognized in this way.”

Stephen Wolfram, who presented the awards, is recognized as a phenomenon in physics. He published his first scientific paper at 16, earned his Ph.D. by 20, and was the youngest recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” at 21.

His company developed the software, Mathematica, which has revolutionized how calculations are done, both numerically and symbolically. Mecholsky uses Mathematica in his research at VSL on a variety of projects. In the work he has been recognized for, he uses the software to model large-scale chemical processes in order to increase the safety of nuclear waste storage.