In the mid-1990s a police detective was stymied by a case where witnesses claimed to have seen a child victim in the car of a suspect but no fingerprint evidence of the child could be found in the vehicle. The detective went to the scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab located in Tennessee and a team was assembled and Dr. Michelle Buchanan began a project using mass spectrometry that came to a startling conclusion.
Due to the differences in the volatile chemicals on children’s hands their fingerprints are different than adults causing them to stay on surfaces for a much shorter amount of time. This breakthrough was just one of many that Buchanan has made during her career at ORNL.
Buchanan has spent over 37 years working at the lab in varying capacities and is currently the Associate Laboratory Director for Physical Sciences where she is responsible for the Chemical Sciences, Materials Science and Technology, Physics, and the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences research divisions. She also serves as the Program Manager for the Basic Energy Sciences Program at ORNL.
But her leadership duties do not keep her out of the lab, she is currently working on creative solutions to the world’s energy crisis. Two areas she sees potential in are thermoelectrics and biofuels. Thermoelectric generators are devices that transform heat directly into electrical energy through a form of thermoelectric effect. And since recently completing a study for the National Science Foundation on biofuels, she is striving to find a way to use the large amount of food waste in America and transform that into a source for biomass.
Buchanan has co-authored over 150 scientific publications, holds two patents and was the editor of a book on Fourier transform mass spectrometry. She is a fellow of the American Chemical Society and in 2014 was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and finds the time to volunteer at Boys and Girls clubs as well as speaking at middle and high schools to encourage students to investigate careers in science.
Written by Angela Goad