April 16, 2021
Staff Accomplishment

Pearce Takes Reins of IDREAM Research as New Director

DOE Energy Frontier Research Center focuses on interfacial chemistry

Carolyn Pearce was named the IDREAM EFRC Director in March 2021

Carolyn Pearce, PhD, was named director of the Interfacial Dynamics in Radioactive Environments and Materials (IDREAM) Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science in March 2021.

(Composite image by Shannon Colson| Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Carolyn Pearce has been named the new director and lead principal investigator of the multi-institutional, interdisciplinary Interfacial Dynamics in Radioactive Environments and Materials (IDREAM) Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC).

She is leading one of 41 EFRCs stewarded by the Basic Energy Sciences (BES) program in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Office of Science.

Pearce, a chemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), has led the IDREAM Science Thrust 1 since the EFRC launched in 2016. Her research focus is chemical speciation in extreme environments, exploiting synchrotron-based techniques to characterize coordination environment and local disorder in phases as they precipitate and dissolve in tank waste environments. Pearce has joint academic appointments to Washington State University’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and to the University of Manchester’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences (United Kingdom). She earned her PhD in color and polymer chemistry from the University of Leeds.

IDREAM’s mission is to master fundamental interfacial chemistry in complex environments characterized by extremes in alkalinity and low-water activity. This knowledge can help speed up the processing of legacy high-level radioactive waste. 

The PNNL-led IDREAM Energy Frontier Research Center is providing new insights into interfacial chemistry processes in radiation environments. (Illustration by Nathan Johnson | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

In 2020, IDREAM was awarded funding, worth $14 million over four years, from the DOE Office of Science for the second phase of research. IDREAM is led by PNNL in partnership with Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Washington, and Washington State University.

“The new aspect for IDREAM 2.0 is bringing time resolution to our measurement of radiation effects in solutions and in solids related to high-level nuclear waste,” Pearce said, adding that DOE user facilities are key to this research. “We’re looking to the future, as this still is a relatively unexplored area, and we have the theoretical powerhouse to interpret the data.”

Pearce is taking the reins from Sue Clark, IDREAM’s founding director. Previously the chief science and technology officer for energy and environment research at PNNL, Clark recently was named the deputy director of science and technology at Savannah River National Laboratory.

“The leadership change has given opportunities for new people to take on leadership roles” Pearce said, noting that the core team has collaborated successfully for five years. “The IDREAM team as a whole—the early career researchers, key personnel, project coordinators and leadership team from seven different institutions—works together to advance our fundamental understanding of these complex, beyond-equilibrium systems.”

IDREAM announced the following leadership team transitions:

  • Greg Schenter has been named IDREAM deputy director. A physicist, Schenter is a PNNL lab fellow with a joint appointment to Washington State University.
  • Michael Spradling will fill the new role of operations director. A PNNL research business capture expert, Spradling coordinated the successful renewal proposal for IDREAM.
  • Xiaosong Li, University of Washington chemistry professor and PNNL lab fellow, will work with IDREAM’s postdoctoral researchers and graduate students as the Early Career Network director.
  • Zheming Wang, a PNNL chemist with a joint appointment to Washington State University, is now leading Science Thrust 1: Molecular & Solution Processes, taking over from Pearce.
  • Xin Zhang, a PNNL chemist, will lead Cross-Cut 3: Synthesis & Materials Characterization.
  • Kevin Rosso, PNNL lab fellow and geochemist who served as the IDREAM interim director, remains the lead for Science Thrust 2: Interfacial Structure & Reactivity.

“As I reflect on the first five years of IDREAM, I want to celebrate Dr. Sue Clark’s scientific vision and leadership in the creation of this EFRC,” said Louis Terminello, PNNL associate laboratory director and an IDREAM Governing Board member. “I’m happy that Sue will remain engaged with IDREAM as a member of the Science Advisory Board. I am thrilled that Dr. Carolyn Pearce will be taking the helm of IDREAM as its new director and am confident she will guide it to continued success.”