The Argonne National Laboratory is a multidisciplinary science and engineering research center, where “dream teams” of world-class researchers work alongside experts from industry, academia and other government laboratories to address vital national challenges in clean energy, the environment, technology and national security. Its workforce totals 3,456 total employees.
One of those 3,456 employees is Peter Chupas, who graduated from Trinity in 1999 with a degree in chemistry. Today, Chupas, who received his Ph.D. from Stony Brook University in New York, is a member of a “dream team” that does groundbreaking research, mostly dealing with batteries and how to make them longer lasting and more energy efficient.
Chupas returned to campus Thursday for a Common Hour talk, the second in the series, “Science for the Greater Good,” featuring Trinity graduates who have had successful careers in the sciences.
According to its Web site, Argonne, located near Chicago, has as its mission to “integrate world-class science, engineering, and user facilities to deliver innovative research and technologies.” Its vision is to “lead the world in providing scientific and engineering solutions to the grand challenges of our time: sustainable energy, a healthy environment, and a secure nation.”
Chupas started working at Argonne in 2003 in the X-Ray Science Division as a postdoctoral fellow and has risen through the ranks to the position of Group Leader. The author of more than 50 articles, Chupas’ research interests include battery materials, nanoparticles, and gas storage materials. In 2006, he was named the recipient of the Sidhu Award, given each year by the Pittsburgh Diffraction Society “for the best contribution to crystallography or diffraction by an investigator within five years of the Ph.D.”
Thursday, he mostly spoke about energy usage and its environmental impact, leading off his discussion with a breakdown of the types of fuels that are prevalent in the U.S. and the world today, and noting that “the concept of global warming is a reality.” He attributed that situation mostly to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, which accounts for 85 percent of energy usage.
Researchers are trying to develop solar, wind and hydro as alternative sources of energy, said Chupas, but they remain expensive alternatives and they haven’t made much of a dent in the dominance of petroleum, coal and natural gas. Chupas said he doesn’t foresee a greater reliance on nuclear power plants in the United States because the problem of storing nuclear waste remains as great as it was decades ago, when the last nuclear power plant was built. A plan to bury nuclear waste in the Nevada desert was scuttled by Congress and various presidential administrations, and no other plan has emerged as a realistic solution.
Chupas said some of the changes that could decrease the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels would be a wholesale transition to electric cars and making energy distribution lines more efficient. Chupas also noted that many of the coal-fired plants in this country are moving toward natural gas, although there are a different set of problems associated with fracking – the shorthand word that refers to the hydraulic fracturing that uses sand, water and chemicals injected at high pressures to blast open shale and release the gas trapped inside.
“Fracking is going through the roof,” he said.
Chupas spent part of the Common Hour discussing the Argonne National Laboratory and how it does basic research involving scientists “from all over the globe.”
Again, according to its Web site, Argonne describes itself as “a center for world-class discovery and scientific excellence. Our diverse and dynamic research agenda spans 14 scientific divisions, 12 centers, and six national user facilities. This rich scientific environment provides our researchers – and those who visit us from all corners of the globe – with an extraordinary range of cutting-edge facilities and scientific tools that support in-depth research, drive technological breakthroughs, and improve our nation’s competitiveness and quality of life.”