On Friday March 5th, 2021, Celia Oney, a second year master’s student in the History and Philosophy of Science program at Oregon State University, presented a paper at the annual Columbia History of Science Group (CHSG) conference. Oney was one of six speakers to present at the conference. Her paper, entitled, “Free to a Good Home: Efforts to Relocate an AGN-201 Research Reactor” will be a part of her master’s thesis.
Attended by over forty people, this year marked the 39th year of the usually intimate gathering. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was held entirely remotely instead of at its customary location at the University of Washington’s Marine Research Laboratory Facility at Friday Harbor, Washington. Despite the fact that the event was virtual, the organizers and participants tried to keep the spirit of the in-person conference by concluding the day with an awards celebration during which participants ate their own oysters (a CHSG tradition), named this year’s award winners, and reminisced about their favorite memories of the conference.
This year’s conference began with a talk presented by keynote speaker, Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, Professor of History of Science and Technology at the University of Minnesota. Following Kohlstedt’s talk were two panels of three presentations each. Oney gave the first talk of the second panel. All but one of the panelists were graduate students, and Oney was the only master’s student to present.
Oney became interested in nuclear research reactors when she worked at Reed College’s Nuclear Research Reactor for four years while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Classics from 2007-2011. During that time Oney progressed to being licensed as a Senior Reactor Operator. In 2015 Oney began working at OSU’s TRIGA Reactor as a Reactor Operator and was promoted to Reactor Supervisor shortly thereafter. Always interested in the history of the nuclear technology with which she worked, Oney decided to pursue a masters program at Oregon State University’s history and Philosophy of Science program in 2018.
Now onto her second year, the part-time student became inspired to research the history of the AGN-201 Reactor through her work at Oregon State University. As Oney explained in her presentation, the remnants of the core of the reactor have sat in a red barrel in the TRIGA reactor room, and piqued her interest as to how it got there since the day she began working more than six years ago. This curiosity helped shape Oney’s thesis work, which examines the external factors that go into the decommissioning of nuclear research reactors in the Pacific Northwest.
Using sources from the Radiation Center’s records, Oney argued that the fate of the AGN-201 reactor’s decommissioning was because of political and personal forces that were happening in faraway places like Mexico and Washington, D.C.. After the conclusion of her talk, the panelists were obviously impressed with Oney’s well supported argument that they actively encouraged her to continue pursuing her topic by offering suggestions of potentially useful resources for future work on her thesis.
This was Oney’s first time presenting at a conference, and even though, it can be overwhelming presenting, especially as the most junior scholar, Oney handled herself exceptionally well. The welcoming environment of the talk, fostered by the conference panelists and participants, led to, as Oney put it, a “surprisingly low-stress experience.” She hopes to attend in-person next year.
Congratulations Celia for a job well done!
CATEGORIES: Graduate Students