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Science Notebook

Science Notebook: Interview with Paul Giardina

Portrait of Paul Giardina next to a dark brown horse.

Paul Giardina with one of his horses, Wisdom's Toll

EPA Science Notebook Coordinator Dr. Dale Haroski recently interviewed Paul Giardina, Director of EPA's Region 2 Office of Indoor Air and Radiation in New York City. Pull up a chair and learn what a nuclear engineer is doing at EPA and about his surprising hobby!

DMH: So tell me about your educational background. What type of scientist are you?

PG: I'm a nuclear engineer. I have an undergraduate degree in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in Nuclear Engineering from New York University's Institute of Environmental Medicine. In fact, my master's degree has a focus in environmental toxicology which is a unique combination and is partly what led me to EPA.

DMH: Well, that was actually my next question. Why do you work for EPA?

PG: Given my unique educational background I was persuaded to join EPA and my interest in the environment has really turned into a strong dedication to the environment and environmental protection. I've really learned what public service means while working here at the Agency.

DMH: What did you do before you came to EPA?

PG: I worked for a few big companies like Con Edison but what many people don't know about me is that I have a horse trainer's license and still breed and race thoroughbreds.

DMH: Wow! That's pretty much the last thing I expected you to say! How did you get involved in that?

PG: I bought my first horse when I was in college and actually have a funny story about my very first horse race and my final exam in my nuclear engineering class. I really wanted to be at the track for the first race so I asked my professor if I skipped the final whether I would pass the class or not. He said I would pass but asked why I couldn't make it and I was honest with him about going to the track to saddle my horse. Long story short, my horse ended up winning that day but I was surprised when I got my grades and I got an A in that class.

Years later I was on a panel with a University of Michigan professor and mentioned that I raced thoroughbreds. He paused and said "You know, there was a kid at University of Michigan who raced horses." He then proceeded to tell me a story about my former professor, a kid who skipped his exam to go the track, and how the nuclear engineering staff made money that day on the kid's horse. They all convinced my professor that he needed to give the kid an A and that was how I learned where my grade came from! Needless to say the professor was surprised to learn that kid was me.

DMH: That might be one of the best stories I have ever heard! Ok, back to EPA. What's the most important thing you've worked on at EPA?

PG: I would have to say the work I did on the West Valley Demonstration Project, the only US former commercial nuclear fuel processing plant. It was a combination of policy, science and engineering that had never been done before. We really proved that high-level nuclear waste can be put into a mode that is safe and clean and can be stored or processed for ultimate disposal. We basically learned that we can handle nuclear waste and feel comfortable that it can be done in a safe way. It was, and is, a scientifically defensible project which made much of our progress in this field possible and got us to where we are today.

DMH: What do you do for fun?

PG: I love all sports and love coaching kids. Of course I also love anything having to do with horse racing and love to be around horses... especially fast horses.

DMH: What profession other than your own would you choose and why?

PG: Maybe something that involved sports and of course horse racing. I like being around horses – they don't talk back!

DMH: What profession would you not like to do?

PG: Politics. Period.

DMH: Any advice for students considering a scientific field?

PG: Yes, just do it. Go to the best schools you can, get involved in your field and get a technical degree. It comes down to supply and demand and the demand for scientists will always be there and you'll be more marketable with a technical degree.

DMH: If you could travel anywhere in the world for vacation where would you go and why?

PG: Hmmm... I have to think about this answer carefully because my wife will read this and I know she wants me to say Japan. Actually, I think I would say Argentina or Chile because it's gorgeous and I'm interested in the history of the area. Oh and they're also doing some great things with horses!

DMH: If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you want to ask them?

PG: I'm fascinated by the old scientists who were really at the cutting edge. I guess I would say Copernicus and I would just want to hear about where he started and how he figured things out. I'd like to just sit back and listen to him talk about the intuitive thought process.

DMH: What's the last book you read?

PG: Actually I'm currently reading Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America. He was a great man who got into office, did what he has to do, left office and then died.

DMH: Well I guess that's one way to handle criticism and analysis of your presidency! Ok, only a few more questions... MP3s or Vinyl?

PG: Vinyl.

DMH: PC or Mac?

PG: PC but I've got a son in college who might change my mind.

DMH: Chocolate or vanilla?

PG: Chocolate. Dark chocolate. Double dark chocolate please!

DMH: Ok, last question and you know I have to ask this – got any hot horse racing tips?

PG: (laughing) No but if you ever get to really spend some time at a track take some time to talk to the people involved in the sport. There are some great people and stories out there!

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