Justin Walensky Receives DOE Funding

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Justin Walensky
Jordan Yount, yountj@missouri.edu, (573) 884-2197
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Departments: 
Chemistry

Justin Walensky, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Missouri, will receive significant funding from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to further his research into understanding chemical bonding. Walensky is one of just 50 scientists from across the country to be selected for the DOE’s Early Career Research Program from a pool of 620 proposals and the first MU researcher to receive this award.

“Supporting talented researchers in their early career years is one key to building and maintaining an effective scientific workforce for the nation,” said Patricia Dehmer, acting director of DOE’s Office of Science, in a DOE news release. The program, now in its sixth year, provides support to exceptional researchers during their early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work.

Walensky’s proposal, Exploring Covalency in the Actinides Using Soft Donor-based Ligands and Metal-ligand Multiple Bonding, was selected by the DOE’s Office of Basic Energy Sciences to receive DOE funding. Walensky says the research is crucial to the effort to close the nuclear fuel cycle.

“If we really want nuclear energy in this country, we’re going to have to reprocess spent nuclear fuel,” he says. “We have to find new techniques and strategies in order to reprocess, and one of the interesting ways is to use soft-donor ligands such as those containing sulfur—so we’re trying to fundamentally understand why that process occurs. This is basic research in which we look at the unique bonding of understudied elements like thorium, uranium, and neptunium.”

Awardees were selected from a large pool of university and national laboratory-based applicants. Selection is based on peer review by outside scientific experts. Under the Early Career Research Program, university-based researchers will receive at least $150,000 per year to cover salary and research expenses. The research grants are planned for five years.

“I was thrilled when I heard the news,” Walensky says. “It’s an amazing feeling that someone is actually interested in your research—especially the government.”

Walensky received his BA from New College of Florida and his doctorate from the University of California, Irvine. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Texas A&M University before joining MU as an assistant professor in January 2011.

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