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July: Jenna Poonoosamy (FZJ)

Jenna Poonoosamy is head of the Junior Research Group of Reactive transport at the Institute of Institute of Fusion Energy and Nuclear Waste Management (IFN) Nukleare Entsorgung (IFN-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich. She is investigating reactive transport processes integrating experiments and modelling. Jenna Poonoosamy holds master’s in physical chemistry and radiochemistry. She conducted her PhD in Switzerland at the Paul Scherrer Institute in collaboration with the university of Bern. She is a guest lecturer at the University of Bonn teaching geochemical modelling. In the interview we talk with her about her research and the challenges she is tackling.


What are you currently working on?

Jenna Poonoosamy: I lead the Reactive Transport team at Institute of Fusion Energy and Nuclear Waste Management (IFN) Nukleare Entsorgung (IFN-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich. My research is dedicated to understanding the migration of contaminants and radionuclides in the subsurface. Our primary objective is to support the selection the site selection procedure for deep geological repositories for radioactive waste in Germany. Ensuring the safety of these repositories over hundreds of thousands of years necessitates advanced process understanding and sophisticated simulation tools to accurately predict repository evolution scenarios. My team and I are committed to developing these conceptual approaches, providing „close to reality“ predictions of nuclear repository evolution a necessity for comparative site assessment.

Currently, under the ERC-starter grant-funded project Genies (Gas-water-mineral interfaces in confined spaces: unraveling and upscaling coupled hydro-geochemical processes, 2022–2027), we are developing cutting-edge experiments and models to investigate crystallization processes involving gases in porous media. These models are crucial for a range of subsurface applications, including deep geological waste repositories, CO2 sequestration, hydrogen storage, and geothermal systems. Our integrated experiment-based models will enable precise modeling of contaminant behavior, significantly reducing uncertainty in assessing the integrity of subsurface storage and extraction systems.

What is your personal motivation?

Jenna Poonoosamy: I genuinely find a sense of purpose in my work. The knowledge gained from my research will contribute to making better-informed decisions about the site selection process in Germany. What drives me every day is my love for science and the thrill of understanding the complex hydro-geochemical processes happening underground. Collaborating with scientists from different fields keeps things exciting, and it's amazing to apply technologies from other areas to my own research. Working with enthusiastic PhD students and technicians is a lot of fun and seeing them grow is truly rewarding.

What kind of challenges are you facing in the near future?

Jenna Poonoosamy: As my team grows (already seven members), a key challenge is finding the right balance between project management, supervising students, collaborating with the postdoc in the team, and conducting my own research. Ensuring that each team member receives the guidance and support they need while also advancing my own research projects requires careful time management and prioritization. Learning to communicate effectively and delegating are important skills that I need to develop to maintain productivity and foster a collaborative and innovative environment within the team.

If you could make a wish for something for your research, what would you wish for?

Jenna Poonoosamy: I would wish for stable and sufficient funding that is insulated from current political agendas. Research in subsurface processes and geological repositories is critical for long-term environmental safety, and it requires consistent support to ensure thorough and unbiased results. Political shifts can often lead to fluctuations in funding, which jeopardizes the continuity of our work. Having a secure and reliable source of funding would allow us to focus on advancing scientific knowledge and making well-informed decisions that prioritize public and environmental safety over short-term political interests.

Where do you see your discipline in 5-10 years?

Jenna Poonoosamy: In 5-10 years, I envision significant advancements in our discipline as AI methodologies and automation continue to evolve. Our experimental and numerical approaches will be increasingly adapted to create a digital twin of the nuclear waste repository. This digital twin will serve as an interactive model of the nuclear waste repository subsystem, allowing us to simulate and predict its evolution over time with unprecedented accuracy and detail.

ORCID: 0000-0003-0090-1522