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Li, MS 99, PhD 03, will travel to the White House as one of 102 scientists and engineers across the country recognized in the early stages of their independent research careers. The date of the ceremony has not been set yet.
“The impressive achievements of these early-stage scientists and engineers are promising indicators of even greater successes ahead,” President Obama said. “We are grateful for their commitment to generating the scientific and technical advancements that will ensure America’s global leadership for many years to come.”
Li’s research focuses on structural materials for nuclear reactors.
“My research seeks to understand the behavior of materials in reactor environments and to develop high-performance materials that can be used in a wide range of nuclear energy systems,” she said.
Li has worked at Argonne since 2008, but her experience with nuclear material science research predates her time at the laboratory.
“I studied materials science in college, and I’ve worked on similar questions ever since,” she said.
“My research at UIUC focused primarily on mechanical property testing and microstructural characterization of structural materials for fusion and fission energy applications,” she continued. “My training and research experience at Illinois provided me with a solid background and an understanding of the nuclear materials field and the necessary skills to conduct independent research on broad topics of materials used in nuclear reactors.
“Prof. (Jim) Stubbins was my advisor and mentor,” Li said. “He provided excellent guidance for my graduate studies and career development, and more importantly, his constant support, and his belief in my unrealized potential that I can do well. He is an extraordinary professor and mentor who has helped me profoundly in my career.”
At Argonne, Li’s research has focused mostly on materials for sodium-cooled fast reactors and very high temperature reactors, which are the next generation of nuclear reactors under development by DOE.
“We want to use modern material science characterization and modeling tools to develop new materials that outperform traditional ones in the extreme irradiation, temperature, and corrosive environments in next-generation nuclear reactors,” she said.
“My goals are to use science tools to tackle complex nuclear engineering problems, and more specifically to develop new and better ways to predict the material performance in nuclear environments and to develop high performance materials for advanced nuclear energy systems.”
In her time at the laboratory, Li has been able to use the intense X-rays provided by the laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source and resources provided by the Electron Microscopy Center to probe the structure of the materials she studies from the atomic to mesoscale. The eventual goal of the research, she said, involves studying the dynamics of microstructural evolution in these materials in situ – in other words, in the kinds of extreme conditions they would experience within a nuclear reactor.
The study of nuclear materials is an interdisciplinary effort.
“There’s very little any one individual can do, and though I’m extremely honored to receive this award the very nature of our research program involves a great deal of collaboration and teamwork, and the recognition should be shared by all the people I have worked with,” she said.
The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.
Before coming to Argonne, Li had previously worked at the China Institute of Atomic Energy, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Risø National Laboratory in Denmark.