An MIT Alumni Association Publication

When Sarah Don ’13, SM '14 was in middle school in Australia, her English class debated the pros and cons of nuclear power. As she researched the facts, she decided that “nuclear is a very safe and efficient power generation option, and I wondered why Australia didn’t have any plants. So I decided to study it.”     

Don’s formal nuclear education began in high school, when she participated in the Research Science Institute, an international summer program at MIT. She worked with Professor Michael Driscoll NUE ’64, ScD ’66, in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Department, and continued doing research with him once she enrolled as an undergraduate at MIT. Her experience was "everything that I hoped and dreamed it would be,” she says. “It was such a relief to be surrounded by people who were as passionate about science as I am. Classes were certainly very challenging but it was worth the effort."         

At MIT Don also discovered ice skating. She chose skating to satisfy the gym requirement and then started dropping in at the lunchtime open skate at the campus rink. When she wanted to try jumps and spins, she got pointers from the MIT Figure Skating Club. “MIT has a big international community who have never skated before, and the Skating Club is very supportive of complete beginners.”

She skates an hour and a half every weekday morning before heading to the reactor.

In 2017, Don was appointed superintendent of the MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory. Her duties include "being responsible for leading a team dedicated to running the reactor reliably and safely, so that we can support the research effort of the lab. The reactor is mostly used for materials-based research, such as recreating very extreme, harsh conditions to test instruments and materials at an accelerated rate," she says.           

Outside the lab, Don has continued to pursue her passion on ice. She skates an hour and a half every weekday morning at the Skating Club of Boston before heading to the reactor. "It's a tight schedule," Don acknowledges, "but skating is what I do to clear my head so I can always make time for it." She praises her coach, Garrett Lucash, at the Skating Club of Boston for "helping me come a long way.”       

Soon Don began competing in US Figure Skating Association competitions in the adult division, which includes mostly people who began skating as adults. She enjoys the process of developing a new program of choreographed moves with a specific number of required jumps and spins, selecting music, and designing a costume that she makes herself. This season Don placed second in the regional qualifying competition in early April and fifth in the silver division at the national championship competition. Next season she looks forward to skating in the gold division, one level higher.       

Don describes how the adult skaters are "all in this because we enjoy it. The competitions are really just for fun. It’s a very supportive atmosphere, which makes it even easier to be part of that community. My goal is to show off a new costume, skate well, and try to get a better score than before. If I get a medal, that’s just a bonus."