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A history of service: Jason Richards

Jason Richards is a technical professional in the RF, Communications and Intelligent Systems Group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Photos by Genevieve Martin, ORNL.
Topics: Clean Energy Electricity and Smart Grid

After more than a decade spent photographing scientific achievements at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Jason Richards has stepped out from behind the camera and into the lab, in a move that continues a career focused on serving his country and community.

Richards’ service began with a stint in the US Marine Corps just out of high school and extended through time as a reserve deputy and certified rescue diver in Upper East Tennessee. He then spent a little over a decade in ORNL’s Creative Services Group, documenting and highlighting the research, capabilities, and people of the national laboratory. 

But Richards was intent on a more direct role in the lab’s research. He recently stepped into a new position as technical professional specializing in electronics operations in the RF, Communications and Intelligent Systems (RFCIS) Group—where he is supporting the lab’s research to harden and defend the nation’s power grid.

It’s been a bellwether year for Richards, who completed his bachelor’s degree just as he and his wife Melissa welcomed their first child. Over a period of 20 months, he took 12-16 hours of coursework each semester in addition to working his full-time job at ORNL to earn the degree, which followed on an associate’s degree. “It was a year of not much sleep,” Richards said. He graduated magna cum laude, just 2 weeks before his daughter was born in mid-May 2018.

He credits his military experience for instilling in him the discipline needed to achieve his goals. “You set your eye on the prize and just go,” he said. 

It was soon after that Richards learned of an opportunity in the RFCIS Group. The organization needed help to stand up a new capability at ORNL: the Goal Operations Analytics Laboratory (GOAL)—designed as a test bed for cyber-physical security research that mimics the operation of a power grid control room. GOAL, located on the Hardin Valley Campus in Knoxville, will give ORNL researchers the ability to test simulations of a utility grid system fed by real-time operating information in order to develop solutions for more secure communications and controls.

His work also includes the utilization of unmanned systems—in the air and underwater—for applications ranging from the detection of contaminants in remote settings to power grid operations. As part of his photography work at the lab, Richards became certified as a drone operator.

To Richards, it is “a chance to support work that could change the world for the better, and certainly make the US safer. One of the things I’ve always liked about working at ORNL is that even though I’m not in the military or law enforcement anymore, I’m still able to serve my country in some capacity here.”

During his time as an ORNL photographer Richards got to know staff from across the lab and had a glimpse at the diverse spectrum of research performed at Oak Ridge. Among his favorite assignments was documenting the 2015 de-fueling operation at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, a DOE User Facility at ORNL (see photo).

“My supervisor was very supportive of me throughout my time as a photographer, and again when I wanted to pursue a technical position elsewhere at the lab,” Richards said. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great people here. The group I’m in now is great, everyone fits together well. I’ve enjoyed my time at the lab so far, and I expect it to only get better.”

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