Government Chemist Honored for Developing Method to Trace Explosives

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Michelle Reardon works many days with one of the world's most dangerous compounds. As a forensic chemist for the government, she studies C-4, a plastic explosive often favored by terrorists.

She decided on a chemistry career while in middle school and as a graduate student "fell in love" with the science of explosives after studying smokeless powder.

Reardon, 30, works for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the agency's Beltsville lab. Since joining the government in August 2000, she has worked on about 250 cases involving explosives and is a member of ATF's National Response Team, which goes to major fire and bombing sites around the country.

Yesterday, she and 10 other scientists and program managers were honored for their achievements at the 57th annual Arthur S. Flemming Awards ceremony at George Washington University.

Reardon was recognized for developing a technique for identifying oils used in making the explosive C-4, which can be difficult to trace because its manufacturers use essentially the same materials and procedures. That work, which allows for some comparisons and can offer clues about an explosive's origin, along with other research, led her supervisor to nominate her, she said.

Her job, she said, is "something different every day . . . definitely not mundane."

Working for the agency, she said, "was the best thing for me, to go into the public service field to help serve the community and the law enforcement community."

Service and dedication are hallmarks of the annual awards named in honor of the late Arthur Sherwood Flemming, who spent a lifetime in public service and was secretary of Health Education and Welfare in the Eisenhower administration. He also served as the head of three colleges.

In the late 1940s, Flemming helped launch the awards, which go to young people in government with three to 15 years of public service experience.

The first award was presented in 1948 by the Downtown Jaycees, and George Washington University took over presentation of the awards in 1997.

This year's winners, by category, are:

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