Peiffer first heard about the job opportunity through her father, who had worked as a chemical engineer at Hanford. The site served as a plutonium production complex during World War II and later as a U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal during the Cold War. The site was decommissioned after the Cold War ended, but it still contains a majority of the nation's radioactive waste and is the focus of the federal government's largest environmental cleanup effort.
Peiffer works in the company's 222-S Laboratory for a Hanford contractor, Advanced Technologies and Laboratories. The lab receives samples from around the Hanford area and performs analytical tests to determine their components – such as mercury and ammonia – so that waste treatment methods can be determined.
Because lab samples come from areas where radiological materials are present, most of the samples technologists receive may potentially cause radiological contamination. Consequently, lab employees who analyze the samples must wear extensive personal protective equipment such as coveralls, eye protection and, in some cases, respirators.
Peiffer says she enjoys how her job requires both independence and teamwork.
"It is rewarding to see some of the chemical processes that I learned about in school being used for a significant purpose and goal," she says. "There is so much to learn in the lab. I enjoy learning new things every day."
During her time at Whitworth, Peiffer participated in En Cristo, worked on the committee for Relay for Life, and served as a small group leader.
Peiffer credits Michael Sardinia, associate professor of biology, as being her most influential Whitworth professor. She has found the tools she learned in his classes, such as thoroughly understanding the material instead of just memorizing it, to be applicable to her current job.
"Dr. Mike's openness to students' questions helped encourage me to ask more questions, which enhanced my learning," Peiffer says. "I have retained so much information from his classes, but beyond just class material, it is very evident that he has a sincere passion for Christ and for teaching, as well as a caring heart for students."
Peiffer says she considers her current job as an excellent starting point for her future career of conducting biomedical research. She says the position at Hanford provides her the means to pursue her master's degree next fall, possibly at the Tri-Cities campus of Washington State University. She hopes to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical research.
A contractor for the Office of River Protection, Advanced Technologies and Laboratories technicians test 25,000 samples of materials in support of the Hanford cleanup mission every year. ATL workers have expertise in fields including nuclear engineering, nuclear physics, organic and inorganic chemistry, waste management, biology, and ecology.
Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703, or email@example.com.