DOD Scholarship Brings New Energy to Student’s Nuclear Research at UCF

Joseph Lee in uniform stands in front of an American flag and a red military banner.

Harnessing nuclear energy has always come with environmental concerns. A doctoral student at the University of Central Florida hopes to tackle that challenge, and a prestigious scholarship from the Department of Defense is going to help.

Joseph Lee has been awarded the DOD’s SMART scholarship. The STEM scholarship will fund Lee’s research, which looks at the chemistry of actinides. “We want to understand actinide binding at molecular level. My research has applications in both the environmental field, as well as national security” Lee says. The scholarship gives Lee up to five years to complete his doctorate. 

It will be an exciting achievement for Lee, a first-generation American whose family immigrated from Laos. Lee is also an Army reservist, and completed an active-duty tour as a logistics officer last year.

Lee will be working under Dr. Vasileios Anagnostopoulos, the director of Nuclear Regulatory Commission Fellowships at UCF’s Department of Chemistry. Dr. Anagnostopoulos established the Nuclear Chemistry program at UCF in 2018. His group has been working on ways to manage radioactive waste, as well as national nuclear security challenges.  

“This is more than an exciting and excellent opportunity to learn from a subject matter expert who will assist me in achieving my current goals,” Lee says.

“Joey brings a new perspective to the group dynamic thanks to his past research experience and he has great enthusiasm and appreciation for nuclear chemistry research,” says Dr. Anagnostopoulos. He says Lee will be working on a project to better understand actinides, which are a critical component of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Dr. Anagnostopoulos also points out that it’s no small achievement to secure a SMART scholarship. “The average rate of acceptance annually is around 15%, so I am very happy and proud of Joey.” He’s also proud of how the scholarship reflects on UCF. “The fact that they awarded a proposal related to the nuclear field is a further testament of our program being a pocket of excellence at UCF and the recognition it gets at national level.”

SMART scholarship recipients are guaranteed a job at the Department of Defense as soon as they complete their degree. Once Lee receives his Chemistry Ph.D, he aspires to join the Air Force Technical Applications Center at Patrick Space Force Base and contribute to their mission of monitoring nuclear treaty compliance and nuclear non-proliferation.

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