Research Group Members

Sarah Finkeldei

Sarah received her Diploma in Chemistry from the RWTH Aachen University, Germany. She conducted her research on pyrochlore oxides as potential nuclear waste forms within the Nuclear Waste Management Institute at the Forschungszentrum Juelich in Germany under the supervision of professor Dirk Bosbach. She received her PhD from the RWTH Aachen University in 2014. During her time as a postdoctoral researcher in the Forschungszentrum Juelich she was awarded a two-year grant to strengthen the international collaborations of the Forschungszentrum Juelich on spent nuclear fuel research with Professor Rodney Ewing (Stanford University) and Professor Maik Lang (University of Tennessee Knoxville). In order to gain more experience in the field of nuclear fuel fabrication she joined the Nuclear Fuel Materials Group at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher in the summer of 2017. Her work contributed to the Advanced Fuels Campaign of the Department of Energy under the supervision of Kurt Terrani and Andrew Nelson. In July 2019 Sarah joined the Chemistry Department at the University of California Irvine where she is currently building up a radiochemistry laboratory dedicated to materials chemistry in the nuclear context. Her research interests span from advanced fuel forms to nuclear waste forms.

Sarah has received several awards for her work including the Excellence Award of the Forschungszentrum Juelich and the PhD award of the German Chemical Society, Nuclear Chemistry Division for her PhD thesis.

Tro Babikian

Tro received his B.S in chemical engineering from the University of California Irvine in 2013. During his undergraduate studies, he worked under professor Venugopalan to study the binding forces between biomolecules using cavitation bubbles generated with high energy lasers. Tro received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California Irvine in 2019 under professor Nilsson. Broadly, his project focused on studying solvent extraction interfacial kinetics and mass transfer in centrifugal contactors for recycling used nuclear fuel. Tro is also a senior reactor operator at the TRIGA nuclear reactor at UC Irvine.

Ernesto Barraza

I graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Electrical Engineering at the University of Arizona, December 2014. After graduating, I was hired on by Sigma Technologies Intl., where I worked as a research engineer in the processing of high energy density polymer capacitors. I was then brought on to work as an engineer at TAE Technologies, where I led research efforts and engineering projects in testing, optimizing, and development/installing large cryogenic pumping system.

Although I enjoy the technical and engineering life, I can't go a few days without riding my bike on the mountains or the street. I am an avid soccer fan, like cats, and beer.

Timothy Connor

Timothy received a bachelors of chemistry from University of California, Irvine in 2018. During his time as an undergraduate, he joined the nuclear research group under Dr. Mikael Nilsson and worked on the synthesis of polyamidoamine dendrimers to be used for actinide separations. Aside from his interest in chemistry, he has played for Anteater Quidditch for the past three years, serving as one of the team’s co-captains in their last season, and remains active on the team.

Thomas Kaufman

Tom's research interests include synthesis and characterization of novel waste forms for spent nuclear fuel. He received his undergraduate degree in Materials Science and Engineering from UC Irvine in 2019. During his undergraduate studies, he researched flash sintering behavior of murataite, a large-unit cell oxide with potential applications in nuclear waste storage. His favorite movies are Pulp Fiction, Nightcrawler, and The Big Lebowski. His hobbies include reading (American lit and fantasy novels), video games (Dark Souls, Path of Exile, Final Fantasy), cooking, and mountain biking.