Problem Solved - Adele Panasci '09

Like many kids, Adele Panasci ’09 fantasized about what she wanted to do when she grew up. But unlike many kids, her ideas always stuck in science. An astronaut, surgeon, finding the cure for cancer.

Panasci entered Saint Mary’s thinking of a career in medicine but quickly found her calling in chemistry.

“I loved [chemistry] so much I didn’t want to go down the road of having to take biology and go into medicine,” she said. “For me, I think it was a good choice.”

Now in her second year as a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore Labs, Panasci is contracted by both the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

Panasci said her main project is using high performance liquid chromatography to separate metals for trace element analysis in uranium ore. She does method and development to improve separation of those elements so that scientists can increase how accurately they determine the concentration of rare earths, transition metals, and Group 1 and 2 metals.

In other words (for the nonscience reader), “[Find] trace characterizations in different uranium ores or other uranium materials that we can possibly track it back to where it came from,” Panasci said.

It is this type of problem-solving that fueled Panasci’s passion for chemistry, which started in that first chemistry class.

“You have to use math and theories and ideas that you learn and apply,” she said. “There is an application in chemistry and that’s what I really fell in love with.”

It may not have come to fruition had her dad not made a deal with her prior to starting college.

He told her he would help her go to medical school so long as she did not go into pre-med as an undergraduate and also took business classes to better understand all aspects of medicine.

To say the least, it all worked out.

She started collaborating at Lawrence Livermore when she was still a doctoral candidate at UC Davis, researching fundamental rates of exchange for Neptunium. It was her most rewarding and challenging experiment, she said

“Neptunium, being an actinide and having five F electrons, we don’t have great knowledge how those electrons are behaving and how they’re affecting the characteristics of the actinides,” she said. “There’s a lot of trial and error in being able to make my compound to that I needed to run the experiments. It took a long time to get the results but it was very rewarding when it did occur.”

One of her greater challenges is patience, she said, explaining that some experiments can take years with many aspects out of her hands. But Panasci always sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

“Something will break or you’ll find contamination or a metal clogging your column and you don’t know which one it is or how to clear it,” she said. “Knowing that you will eventually get those results and being able to write up that paper and see your results published, and knowing that they will be helpful and possibly help solve other problems is always exciting.”