Career lessons from Christina Leggett, a Booz Allen nuclear engineer

From the buildings where we live and work to the vehicles that get us around, energy powers every aspect of our daily lives. Finding, delivering, and managing energy is a complex business, one involving regulations, technology, and a range of critical infrastructure that must be modernized and secured.

Booz Allen’s Dr. Christina Leggett is helping to shape the energy sector’s future as a nuclear technical science, engineering, and technology advisor (technical SETA) for their energy, resources, and utilities practice, which supports a wide range of public- and private-sector clients. In this role, she’s helping the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) advance high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that improve economic prosperity, national security, and environmental wellbeing.

Christina’s work takes her around the country and the globe to events like the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), where she recently participated in the American Nuclear Society (ANS) delegation. She serves on the ANS Board of Directors and chairs its fuel cycle and waste management division.

Read on for more about Christina’s professional journey, highlights from Booz Allen’s support of ARPA-E, and career advice.

From AP Chemistry to Advanced Research

“Growing up in Mississippi, I didn’t know about nuclear engineering as a career,” Christina says. “I first learned about nuclear science in high school AP chemistry, and I was really fascinated about the fact there was so much energy contained within a single tiny atom that could be used to make electricity, diagnose and treat cancer, enable deep space exploration, and more.”

This discovery set her career path in motion.

“I was so fascinated by nuclear science that on my first day of college in my honors chemistry class, I told my professor that I wanted to be a nuclear chemist,” she recalls. “She said, ‘You’re in luck. We have a famous nuclear chemist here.’ And by working with him in his diverse chemistry group, it initiated a chain reaction of my career in nuclear science.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Florida State University, Christina completed a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at the University of California-Berkeley. Wide-ranging jobs in academia, government, and industry followed: using nuclear imaging to diagnose conditions like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, recovering uranium from seawater, and more.

At the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), she worked as a nuclear engineer to ensure the safe transportation and storage of used nuclear fuel and as a reactor systems engineer where she managed NRC code distribution while training to become an expert in severe accident consequence analyses.

Championing Commercial Nuclear ‘Waste’ Recycling

At Berkeley, Christina’s studies focused on the fundamental chemistry of advanced nuclear recycling technologies. Later as a federal program manager in the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, she managed a multimillion-dollar research and development portfolio related to the advanced recycling of nuclear “waste.”

This interest led her to Booz Allen, to help ARPA-E develop an even larger R&D program focused on economic and secure recycling.

“I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to apply my extensive knowledge in nuclear ‘waste’ recycling, leverage my extensive network of experts in the field, and help the nation move towards its first commercial nuclear ‘waste’ recycling facility in over 50 years,” she says. “I’m proud that the Converting UNF Radioisotopes Into Energy program I helped develop has galvanized the conversation around recycling nuclear ‘waste.’”

When Christina talks about this work, however, she says she intentionally puts quotation marks around the concept of nuclear “waste.”

“I don’t consider the used nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors as waste,” she explains. “It’s a resource! We can power reactors for centuries with the remaining fuel inside of it, and there are many other valuable radionuclides to boot.”

In addition to supporting new program development, Christina also provides technical oversight of projects covering a wide range of topics such as developing advanced nuclear waste recycling technologies, tritium recovery for nuclear fusion, and development of corrosion- and radiation-resistant nuclear materials, to name a few.

Shaping the Future of Energy Innovation

Christina calls ARPA-E “a moonshot organization” given its focus on high-risk, high-reward, transformative technologies. “These technologies can reduce reliance on external materials, improve the efficiency of existing energy sources, or even revolutionize the way that energy is produced, stored, or transmitted as electricity,” she explains.

Booz Allen’s technical SETAs like Christina help ARPA-E program directors identify white space for innovation, develop an R&D program, and manage the projects in the program’s portfolio. For R&D programs with a strong commercialization focus, principal investigators for ARPA-E projects work closely with technology-to-market advisors, including advisors from Booz Allen, to facilitate post-project commercialization.

In March, the relationship between Booz Allen and ARPA-E deepened and expanded with a 10-year contract to support the full development and deployment cycle of early-stage energy technology. This cycle includes identifying disruptive technologies, managing grantee competitions, and supporting the advancement of technology solutions that solve global environmental challenges, among other activities.

In both the nuclear industry and the energy sector, there’s vast potential to reimagine and reshape the future, according to Christina.

“When people think about nuclear reactors, they often think about electricity. But what excites me about nuclear is that these reactors can do many more things,” she says. “They can be used for desalination, for example. Water scarcity is a big problem that will only get worse for many countries.”

Other nuclear reactor applications include decarbonization of other industrial sectors, powering data centers, supporting deep-space missions, and more. With the firm’s wide-ranging expertise across all areas of science and technology, “Booz Allen is perfectly poised to help,” Christina says.

Embracing Curiosity, Diversity, and Dreaming Big

What’s Christina’s advice for others seeking a similar career path in nuclear science?

“Dream big, and don’t let your circumstances deter you,” she says. “I came from a low-income background in Mississippi, but I didn’t let my socioeconomic status or lack of access to educational resources hinder my passion for learning.”

Another piece of advice: “Always ask questions. No one enters a STEM field knowing everything. Find someone you admire and ask them to be your mentor. Mentors can open a lot of doors for you.”

Finally, she advises to embrace diversity. “Speak with diverse people, participate in multicultural events, and learn about different cultures,” she says. “My undergraduate research laboratory boasted scientists from all over the world, and learning from them really opened my eyes about the world we live in.”


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