Faculty Research Areas - Applications

Production of Isotopes

Radioisotopes are used as sensitive probes for chemical and biological process in a variety of sciences ranging from understanding the silicon cycle in the ocean to revealing the role of phosphorous in metabolic pathways of different biomolecules in cells. Research at NSCL aims at finding ways to vastly increase the number of radioisotopes researchers have at their demand to use for basic science (Dave Morrissey, Bradley Sherrill). We don’t know for sure how many isotopes are possible, but we are exploring ways that will allow us to make most of them and nearly double the number accessible.

Medical Uses of Isotopes

Nuclear medicine uses radioactive isotopes to trace biological functions within the body and make sensitive and accurate tests for disease. Worldwide, nearly 30 million diagnostic procedures using radioisotopes are performed yearly and the number is growing rapidly. A relatively newer use is in the treatment of cancer by delivering a radioactive material directly to cancerous cells. Research is limited by the availability of the appropriate isotopes, but studies at the NSCL are exploring better ways to provide samples of interesting isotopes like 67Cu (Dave Morrissey).

Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Waste Disposal

Scientists around the world are exploring ways to make nuclear power safe and at the same time solve the problem of nuclear waste. These investigations rely on an understanding of basic nuclear properties such as the decay characteristics and neutron capture rates of key isotopes; yet, gaps exists in the needed information. With the ability to produce many of the relevant isotopes, research at NSCL aims to reduce the uncertainties (Bradley Sherrill) and helps to optimize the designs. One promising approach is to use particle accelerators to drive the fission process. This provides an inherently safe operation and simultaneously a means to reduce nuclear waste. Research into advanced accelerator concepts is directly relevant to this approach (Daniela Leitner, Mike Syphers).

Securing the Nation

The proliferation of nuclear materials is one of the significant risks to the security of the United States. Scientists aim to find sensitive and accurate new techniques to identify and track the distribution of nuclear materials. NSCL is one of the key partners in the Department of Energy Nuclear Science Security Consortium, which is a partnership of seven major universities across the U.S. who engage in research related to national security and provide educational resources to PhD students that enable them to qualify for jobs in the national security field (Alexandra Gade, Sean Liddick, Hiro Iwasaki, Bradley Sherrill, Michael Thoennessen). As part of our role, NSCL is developing new generations of more sensitive detectors (Alexandra Gade, Sean Liddick, Michael Thoennessen) of radiation and finding a better knowledge of the important nuclear reactions (Bradley Sherrill) needed to model nuclear devices.