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FHU Junior Takes First Place in Oak Ridge National Laboratory Poster Competition

Henderson, Tennessee - Sep 11, 2017

A Freed-Hardeman University student has won a poster competition at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Nuclear Engineering Science Laboratory Synthesis Program (NESLS). Hunter Heffington, an FHU junior majoring in chemistry and pre-engineering, took first place among 43 interns, most of whom were master’s level or doctoral students.

Heffington, from Pikeville, Kentucky, worked under a mentor, Susan Smith, to analyze gamma-ray radiation from a spent nuclear fuel rod using four gamma-ray spectrometers to verify burn-up and cooling time. His poster displayed the work he had done over the summer. Posters were judged on technical achievement and presentation. A cash prize accompanied the first place award.

Heffington learned about the importance of internships from his advisors. Through his research, he discovered many opportunities available at ORNL. Requirements included being enrolled in a nuclear engineering or some other eligible science major, maintaining at least a 3.0 grade point average, and participating in the poster contest. He applied for and received the most prestigious internship, the one at NESLS.

“I was definitely not expecting to win the poster contest,” he said. “I was an undergraduate chemistry student from a small private school competing against Ph.D. nuclear engineering students in a nuclear engineering program. I was surprised to say the least,” he said. Heffington noted he gained confidence from winning. “When I discovered that I had won, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of belonging. In a way, I proved to myself that I'm not in over-my-head by being in this field. I'm more confident in myself and more excited for what my future holds than I've ever been before,” he said.

The scholar is also an athlete. A mid-fielder on the Lion soccer team, Heffington believes intercollegiate athletics actually helps him be a better student. “Knowing I have practices later helps motivate me to get my work done before practice,” he said. “After practices and games, I'm more tired and less likely to put forth the necessary effort on my schoolwork. That’s a good system in theory, but I'm not as consistent in staying on top of my schoolwork as I would like to be, and those days that I put it off, turn into late nights more often than not.” 

Heffington plans to attend graduate school to study chemical engineering after receiving his degree from FHU in May 2018.