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PNNL researcher receives highest Battelle honor

John Zachara named Battelle Fellow for distinguished work in environmental geochemistry

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September 02, 2010 Share This!

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RICHLAND, Washington — Veteran geochemist John Zachara has been named a Battelle Fellow, a rank shared by only three other Pacific Northwest National Laboratory scientists.

The honor recognizes Zachara, who's been at the Department of Energy laboratory for 31 years, for his scientific accomplishments, leadership and long record of service as advisor to multiple DOE offices.

Zachara is a nationally recognized expert on how contaminants such as uranium or chromate flow underground and react with sediments, rocks and water. For decades he has studied the complex subsurface environment below DOE's Hanford Site, an area in south-central Washington state where years of weapons-grade nuclear materials production released radioactive and chemical materials to the ground and subsurface. In the process, he solved many perplexing issues.

For example, Zachara has led a team trying to determine why a decades-old uranium plume underneath Hanford hasn't dispersed as predicted 15 years ago. The team found that high Columbia River flows in the spring cause fluctuations in the groundwater water table that allow uranium to move from sediments above the aquifer. And when the nuclear fission byproduct known as cesium 137 traveled faster underground than anticipated at another location, Zachara found that residual heat and high salt concentrations from the wastes unexpectedly affected how water and minerals reacted with the cesium.

Zachara has also collaborated with microbiologists to understand how bacteria and other tiny organisms influence the movement of contaminants in harsh geochemical environments that were previously thought to be lifeless. Some microorganisms can slow down or stop contaminants by packing them inside newly formed minerals, in the process removing the toxic substances from water.

"He's gotten a handle on some of the most extreme environments with respect to chemistry, temperature and radiation," said associate laboratory director Doug Ray, who leads PNNL's Fundamental & Computational Sciences Directorate. "And what he's learned can be generalized to many other legacy waste sites, as well as applied to the challenge of understanding geologic and terrestrial sequestration of carbon dioxide and other fossil fuel emissions."

Zachara is a former associate director of EMSL, DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus, and a current member of DOE's Earth Sciences Council. In 2006, he received DOE's Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for Environmental Science and Technology.

He is PNNL's senior chief scientist for environmental chemistry. He earned a doctorate in soil chemistry from Washington State University, a master's degree in soil and watershed chemistry from the University of Washington, and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.

Tags: Awards and Honors

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