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UMass Lowell is part of a consortium, led by Idaho State University, that has been awarded a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the Nuclear Energy University Program of the Department of Energy (DOE). U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the selection of 71 university research project awards totaling $44 million as part of DOE’s investments in advanced nuclear energy research and development.
“Our award falls under the Energy Department’s Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative category,” says Physics Prof. Partha Chowdhury, the University’s interim vice provost for Research and principal investigator for the project. He will collaborate with co-researchers from Idaho State University, Colorado School of Mines, University of Dallas, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of Kentucky, University of Utah, Texas A&M University and the U.S. Naval Academy.
“This grant is part of the University’s renewed commitment to effectively leverage a unique core facility on our campus, namely, a 1-megawatt research reactor and a 5.5-megavolt particle accelerator, which are part of the Radiation Laboratory,” he says. “The lab is an interdisciplinary center, the mission focus of which is research, education and partnerships. As a new co-director of the center, my goal is to raise its profile on campus, in the UMass system and beyond.”
According to Chowdhury, the DOE grant ߞ; along with other project proposals in the pipeline ߞ; is a step toward achieving that goal. “It utilizes expertise built up with stable funding from a basic research program and applies it to a global problem of harnessing energy cleanly and safely,” he says. “The funding will support the education of young researchers in nuclear science and engineering. Such training addresses a critical need for a well-educated workforce that populates diverse fields such as medicine, security, energy and public policy.”
In particular, the consortium will study the scattering properties of electrically neutral subatomic particles, called neutrons. Chowdhury explains that this multi-institution effort is about improving the world knowledge about how neutrons scatter. “Neutrons are everywhere in nuclear science and engineering research and education, not to mention in the fission process that releases energy tied up in the core of an atom,” he says. “So understanding how neutrons scatter from anything and everything is crucial to designing safe ways to harness this energy.”
This includes experimental measurements, theoretical expertise and computer modeling to develop advanced, high-precision reference data. “In addition to the unique neutron-generating capabilities in the Radiation Laboratory, our research group has expertise in emerging technologies in advanced radiation detection,” says Chowdhury. “We will primarily contribute by developing better detectors and detection techniques so we can improve our experimental knowledge of neutron scattering.”