Argonne National Laboratory

Jane Johnston

By Imelda FrancisApril 30, 2014

Jane Johnston is a nuclear material specialist in Argonne's Nuclear and Waste Management division.

What attracted you to work at Argonne?

Illinois winters, I'm kidding. After working at Los Alamos National Laboratory for many years, I knew I wanted to work at another laboratory with similar work challenges. I enjoy the academic atmosphere and challenging work. Also, the national laboratories are wonderful places for students to work and learn about exciting and interesting new things. I enjoy mentoring students and currently have a fantastic student who is coming back this summer.

What are the things you like most about your work?

Every day I'm faced with new challenges and I learn something new from each one. I enjoy the people I work with and how well we work together to make projects successful. In fact, our team has received numerous awards for our efforts at the Alpha Gamma Hot Cell Facility, including recognition from U.S. Department of Energy headquarters for safety and innovation.

What role do you play at Argonne?

As a nuclear waste project specialist, and part of the team directed to handle the lab's legacy waste reduction effort, I am responsible for maintaining an accurate inventory of the fissionable material in the Alpha Gamma Hot Cell Facility. Properly disposing of legacy waste is a priority under the laboratory's Nuclear Footprint Reduction and Deactivation Plan.

Part of my job is to research and physically confirm the historical record of how samples from decades ago were prepared and what studies were conducted with the samples. I also help with preparation and disposition of the various samples that are part of the project. Our team completes sample packaging arrangements based on the Central Characterization Program guidelines, outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, for the Waste Isolation Project Plant, the nation's only deep geological radioactive waste repository located in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

How does your work support the lab's larger scientific mission?

I help prepare nuclear material for safe, final transfer from the Alpha Gamma Hot Cell Facility to a temporary onsite staging and handling facility, in preparation for loading and final disposition to the Waste Isolation Project Plant site. The Alpha Gamma Hot Cell is a non-reactor nuclear facility that has been transitioned from a research and development mission to a deactivation and de-inventory mission. Safety is a number one priority at Argonne and it feels good to be part of that larger scientific mission — safety and science go hand-in-hand here. Research and safety are synonymous with one another at Argonne.

What sorts of positive mentoring experiences, formal or informal, have you had at Argonne?

We all mentor each other, formally and informally. We look out for each other and everyone shares and helps each other learn. We are not in it to compete; we are in this to do a great job!

What sorts of Argonne activities or clubs do you participate in?

I've helped staff the Science Careers in Search of Women event, which helps encourage young women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics career fields. I've also served on Argonne's Employee Safety and Health Committee, helping to further the lab's positive safety culture. Safety is something I and the lab community believe strongly in. I also write for our weekly Nuclear Waste Management division newsletter.

How does Argonne support a positive work-life balance for you?

I like the 9/80 alternate work schedule that the lab offers. It enables me to work nine-hour days so I can have an extra weekday off every other week. While nine-hour days can sometimes be long, I like having a weekday off to do things I am unable to do on the weekends. I also work to support my horse habit! I have a Norwegian fjord horse, Tabasco, that I drive a carriage with. I plan to drive her at the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. It's a beautiful nature preserve surrounding Argonne's property. Another one of my horses, a registered quarter horse, is on loan to a barn nearby where she is used for lessons, and my Appaloosa is earning his keep providing rides to handicapped individuals at Friends of Equine Therapeutic Activities in Winfield.