August 3, 2022

Eight Graduate Students Join PNNL’s Prestigious DOE Program

SCGSR Hero Image July 2022

SCGSR students join PNNL

Through world-class training and access to state-of-the-art facilities, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program prepares students to enter careers of critical importance to the DOE mission and secures the U.S. position at the forefront of discovery and innovation.

Eight of DOE’s recently announced 80 SCGSR graduate students were selected to conduct part of their doctoral dissertation or thesis research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) through this prestigious program:

  • Benjamin Jackson, Auburn University, basic science for clean energy and decarbonization
  • Victoria Monsaint-Queeny, Northern Arizona University, environmental microbiology
  • William Smith, Washington State University, data and computational sciences for materials and chemical sciences
  • Payton Beeler, Washington University in St. Louis, atmospheric system research
  • Alexander Smith, College of William and Mary, environmental system science
  • Gabriel Parker, University of Illinois Chicago, biomolecular characterization and imaging science
  • Sarah McKnight, University of Massachusetts, environmental system science
  • Walter Johnsen, University of Pennsylvania, basic science for clean energy and decarbonization

SCGSR awardees were selected from a diverse pool of graduate applicants from institutions around the country. Selection was based on merit peer review by external scientific experts.

While the awardees represent premier graduate students and competitive proposals, many of these students attribute the start of their STEM career to their family and community.

“My first memory of being interested in STEM was in 2001, when I entered the Oklahoma State Science Fair, demonstrating the effect of salt concentration on freezing time for water,” explained William Smith. Smith is working with IDREAM, a PNNL-led DOE Energy Frontier Research Center. “My father was in the field at Fort Irwin, CA for training and I remember being on the phone with him designing the experiment and later practicing my poster presentation. I don’t think I would’ve pursued chemistry if it hadn’t been for his support.”

As one of the DOE’s most diverse, multi-disciplinary laboratories, using an integrative approach to scientific impact PNNL is particularly compelling for SCGSR awardees.

Aside from the availability of state-of-the-art machinery, equipment, and analyses, the ability to collaborate with researchers focused on similar dynamics, but in different ecosystems and using different methods, is truly what makes this opportunity at PNNL great,” said Alexander Smith.

Similarly, Benjamin Jackson explained how his work will involve working with a group of premier PNNL experts in the application of molecular dynamics in catalysts. “I’m very honored to be getting to work with such a talented group. The project itself will require significant computational resources that I’d only have access to through an institution such as PNNL,” he said.

Sarah McKnight’s research focuses on groundwater and its interaction with rock in certain desert environments. She sees this work as deeply needed to create critical insight and change for society.

“There are still so many things about the world and how it works that we just do not know yet. More knowledge leads to more power—power to make the most out of the world, and hopefully for the benefit of all,” she said. “I specifically hope to benefit others by informing them how their groundwater resources are changing in both quality and quantity in places with scarce water resources, like deserts.”

Ultimately, the Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists, which supports the SCGSR program, aims to develop the next generation of STEM professionals and leaders who will carry forward the work our nation needs. The opportunity to work at a national laboratory and to develop networks with leading experts provides a foundation for these awardees to launch their STEM careers.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to work at such a distinguished lab under the guidance of some great scientific minds. I have never really had an opportunity such as this so to be able to take full advantage is something I am most excited for,” shared Gabriel Parker, who will be working in secondary ion and neutral mass spectrometry.

In addition to participating in DOE’s SCGSR program, PNNL offers a variety of internship and research associate positions. Learn more at

Published: August 3, 2022