PULLMAN – Two scientists at WSU were awarded grants from the National Science Foundation’s Academic Research Initiative program totaling more than $2 million. Using the grant support, Sue Clark of the Chemistry Department will study nuclear forensics and Marc Weber and colleagues of the Center for Materials Research will develop new crystals for radiation detectors.

“Many of the radiochemical procedures used in nuclear forensics today are the same ones that were developed back in the Manhattan Project,” said Clark. The current methods for separating and identifying actinides, a series of radioactive elements used in nuclear weapons and power applications, can take days or even weeks to complete.

Clark’s new techniques using capillary electrophoresis and microchip technology may allow for real-time field screening of plutonium and other materials by nuclear proliferation investigators and forensic scientists at the Department of Homeland Security. Her grant of over $900,000 for five years will support improvements in techniques and also train two WSU radiochemistry graduate students each year.

Weber’s team, which includes engineering professors David Bahr and Grant Norton, will focus on improving the quality of single crystal garnets. These garnets, when doped with various elements, are used as detectors of X-rays and gamma-rays in a wide range of applications including border security, nuclear safeguards, medical imaging, materials diagnostics and astronomy.

“Radiation detectors are essential for a broad range of applications in everyday life as well as the security and safety of our society,” said Weber.

It is particularly challenging to produce high quality garnet crystals of sufficient size for these vital applications. Weber will use newly developed heat treatments and other crystal engineering methods to reduce the defects that occur during growth of these crystals, resulting in better detector performance.

Weber has been awarded over $1.1 million for the next three years. Part of the funding will be used to train the next generation of materials scientists familiar with the challenges of growing high quality crystals in this rapidly expanding field.