30 under Thirty: Michael Van Cleve ’11

Michael Van Cleve ’11

24 ● Santa Fe, NM ● Nuclear Materials Engineer for Los Alamos National Laboratory


Michael, what was your path following graduation from MFS? 

After MFS, I got a B.S. in materials science and engineering from UCLA during which time I interned for Northrop Grumman building the James Webb Space Telescope. Now I’m a Nuclear Materials Engineer for Los Alamos National Laboratory where I make pellets out of a high heat producing isotope of Plutonium (Pu238) which power deep space missions like Voyager, Cassini, and New Horizons, as well as Mars rovers including Curiosity. I am currently working on making the pellets for the future Mars 2020 rover.

What excites you about your field of science and its intersection with space exploration?

I want to support the pursuit of knowledge on the final frontier, and the missions my work supports is helping us learn about how solar systems form and what kind of planets can sustain life, and just possibly might discover extraterrestrial life itself.

In your career so far, has there been a highlight that you’d like to share?

When I demonstrated months of training to become just the 3rd qualified operator of the Plutonium hot press, the only one of its kind in the world, that was a proud moment. 

Did MFS impact your trajectory to where you are now?

MFS gave me fantastic direction; I believe I came to MFS with lots of somewhat aimless scientific curiosity, but it was great teachers at MFS that pointed me to a major I had never heard of before that maximized my talent and interests. The combination of practical and academic knowledge I learned from them still helps me today.


In the Fall 2017 feature story of the Among Friends alumni magazine, 30 young alumni under the age of 30-years-old were profiled for their promising talent. Micheal Van Cleve ’11 was one of our 30 under Thirty.