Nuclear Science Center to acquire high‑resolution X‑ray spectrometer

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The Nuclear Science Center, in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry and the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, will acquire a new high-resolution X-ray spectrometer to perform both X-ray absorption and emission spectroscopy.

The high-resolution X-ray spectrometer will benefit analytical chemistry and materials science research at WSU by providing the means to perform more accurate measurements of materials found in spent nuclear fuels, nuclear waste forms, and fuel materials.

A newly created radiological spectroscopy laboratory (RSL) will serve as the home for the X-ray spectrometer. The spectrometer and RSL will greatly upgrade the technical capabilities at WSU for nuclear-related and radiochemical research and teaching.

“The X-ray spectrometer will fill the institutional and national infrastructure gaps by installing a laboratory-based light source in a newly created radiological lab to enable researchers and students to perform material characterization of actinide-containing and nuclear materials under complex sample environments,” said Corey Hines, director of the Nuclear Science Center and co-principal investigator on the project.

Funding for the X-ray absorption spectrometer and the RSL is provided by a grant from the Nuclear Engineering University Program administered by the Department of Energy-Office of Nuclear Energy-Idaho Operations Office.

“The addition of the new X-ray spectrometer and the RSL adds to the infrastructure needed for our researchers and partner institutions and laboratories to make impactful contributions in nuclear science,” said Christopher Keane, vice president for research.

For the last 50 years, WSU scientists have conducted research in various areas of nuclear science and radiochemistry. Over the past decade, WSU has grown the number of researchers studying nuclear materials across multiple colleges, creating the need for advanced technology.

“Nuclear science and technology has been a flagship program at WSU for decades. Having the advanced lab-based spectrometer focusing on actinides and other nuclear material investigations will greatly expand research and development opportunities while also bringing together researchers from multiple disciplines,” said Xiaofeng Guo, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and lead principal investigator on the instrumentation grant.

The X-ray spectrometer will improve the infrastructure for both research and development and teaching in the WSU nuclear science program. The spectrometer will also accelerate the education and training of the next generation of researchers and students by providing state-of-the-art spectroscopic equipment that will help them prepare to utilize synchrotron user facilities and work in Department of Energy national laboratories.

“The RSL will train future nuclear scientists and engineers, preparing them for working in the Department of Energy national laboratories or nuclear industry after graduation. This high-resolution X-ray spectrometer will strengthen the radiochemistry and materials science research programs at WSU, and enable more collaborative work among top scientists in the field of radiochemistry, actinide science, and nuclear materials science,” said Hines.

More than 40 graduate students across several degree programs and five faculty are expected to use the RSL. The lab will serve as a research and teaching hub for students interested in both advanced spectroscopy and nuclear sciences to learn the principles, practices, and analyses of X-ray spectroscopies, and their applications in nuclear science.

“The facility will also allow the interdisciplinary Materials Science and Engineering doctoral program to contribute more strongly in research into nuclear fuel and nuclear ceramics, building on the strength of WSU’s radiochemistry program which graduates a significant percentage of all doctoral students studying radiochemistry in the country,” said John McCloy, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, and co-principal investigator on the project.

The RSL will also enable new collaborations with universities and national laboratories in the Pacific Northwest, providing access to research capabilities currently missing in partner institutions. The RSL opens the door for expanded and diversified research capabilities for many of WSU’s partner institutions and national laboratories, including the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the University of Idaho, and Boise State University.

“The acquisition of this spectrometer will foster the further development of the WSU-PNNL Nuclear Science and Technology Institute (NSTI). It will provide more opportunities for WSU faculty and PNNL staff to collaborate on projects of mutual interest. PNNL is already an important user of the TRIGA reactor at the Dodgen research facility and this instrument will be an important characterization tool that will support ongoing programs and facilitate the development of new ones,” said James Boncella, director of NSTI and professor in the WSU Department of Chemistry.

The nuclear science research and education infrastructure at WSU includes the Dodgen Research Facility, a 1 MW TRIGA-fueled research reactor radiological facility, and two campus-based radiological clusters, Fulmer and the Engineering Teaching & Research Laboratory (ETRL), for researchers to access a variety of radio analytical material characterization and advanced calorimetric instrumentation. The RSL will be located in the Dodgen Research Facility reactor building.

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