University of Minnesota part of new $12.5 million center focused on nuclear chemistry

Center is tasked with prioritizing research regarding nation’s nuclear weapons security and operations

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (11/07/2017)— The University of Minnesota is part of a new National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Actinide Center of Excellence (ACE) to conduct research in actinide and nuclear chemistry. The center is tasked with prioritizing research that is important for Stockpile Stewardship—the certification that the nation’s nuclear weapons are secure and operational. The NNSA’s Stewardship Sciences Academic Alliance program will provide $12.5 million for the center.

The center, led by the University of Notre Dame, includes scientists from the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Oregon State University, and Washington State University.

University of Minnesota Chemistry Professor Laura Gagliardi is part of the team because of her expertise in highly sophisticated simulations of actinide clusters using electronic structure theory methods and molecular dynamics approaches. Her team will model the experimental systems studies in the center, guide the experimental design, extend the studies beyond regions of experimental accessibility, and drive fundamental knowledge of poorly-understood frontier f-orbitals and electrons.

“Being part of this center is an incredible opportunity to employ our expertise at the University of Minnesota to advance the knowledge on a topic that is so important for our nation,” Gagliardi said. “Advancing this field is an incredible challenge for theoretical and computational chemists. We have to employ existing methods in a very sophisticated way and develop new methodologies. That is very exciting for my research group.”

The research conducted at ACE will integrate both experimental and computational approaches to analyze radioactive materials, including the elements americium, neptunium, plutonium and uranium. The team of researchers will also focus on three specific themes: the properties and structure of nanoscale radioactive materials; the thermochemistry, or heat energy, associated with these materials; and how nanoscale nuclear materials react in various chemical environments.

A major goal of the center is to support workforce development as it pertains to Stockpile Stewardship. Researchers will train graduate students, postdoctoral scientists and engineers to plan, set up, and conduct safe and efficient experiments with radioactive materials.

ACE will be funded over five years and support 16 doctoral students and eight postdoctoral researchers from across all involved universities. The program will require graduate students to complete a course in actinide chemistry, taught jointly by the University of Notre Dame and Washington State University, and a three-month research internship at one of NNSA’s three laboratories across the country.

For more information, visit the NNSA website.