U-M Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences research spans four major areas: sustainable energy, nuclear security and defense, environment and health and enabling scientific discovery.
After over 30 years without new nuclear reactor construction in the US, this decade may see four new reactors come online. In the meantime, the US is extending the lives of old reactors. In order to do this responsibly, we need to know how materials age in reactors. NERS materials research reveals how nuclear reactors components degrade over time in high radiation, high temperature and high pressure environments, identifying ways to shore up weaknesses in existing reactors. Read more about this project in Materials and Radiation Effects.
Professor Gary Was discusses the challenge of simulating radiation in a nuclear reactor in order to test and improve materials for light water reactors.
U-M NERS is part of a US Department of Energy “Research Hub” to produce a virtual reactor for finding the causes of problems in nuclear power reactors, predicting problems that will arise as they run for long periods and designing better reactors for the future. Read more about these projects in Fission and Radiation Transport.
While sustained nuclear fusion reactions are an elusive goal, we are approaching it through theoretical studies and experiments with plasma. Read more about fusion related research under Plasmas and Nuclear Fusion.
Radiation detection is our best weapon against nuclear terrorism. Airports, seaports and border crossings equipped with such detectors would be able to scan luggage, cargo and vehicles, looking for the telltale signs of radioactivity. Our faculty and students are helping to develop these detectors.
If a nuclear terrorist attack was imminent, such as the detonation of a bomb laden with radioactive materials that could contaminate the surrounding area, police or security forces should be equipped with a radiation imager that can identify the radioactive material and where it is located. Read more about these projects in Radiation Measurements and Imaging.
If a bomb is confiscated, or even after a detonation, it may be possible to trace the nuclear materials back to their sources. The composition of the radioactive material may indicate the type of reactor that was used to enrich it to weapons-grade levels. Read more in Fission and Radiation Transport.
Microwave radiation can be used to stun or destroy electronics at a distance. Researchers are looking for ways to generate intense microwave beams that could short out the detonators on roadside bombs or stop engines by disrupting the power to the spark plugs. Read more about this project in Plasmas and Nuclear Fusion.
Radiation is a powerful tool in the medical profession. It allows doctors to non-invasively see inside the body, identifying and assessing conditions such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy. Radiation imagers may improve medical imaging.
Both radiation beams and radioactive medicines have proven effective against cancer. Researchers in the department are developing ways calculate a patient-specific radiation dose that can kill a tumor while minimizing side effects. For more on these projects, see Radiation Measurements and Imaging.
Plasmas can be powerful microbe killers. The free electrons attack chemical bonds in organic molecules, such as those that make up bacteria such as E. coli, anthrax and industrial dyes. NERS faculty and students are looking for ways to harness plasma to purify water or decontaminate areas attacked with biological or chemical weapons. Read more in Plasmas and Nuclear Fusion.
While nuclear power can protect the environment from an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the radiation from the waste product must be contained. NERS researchers are exploring new materials that can safely hold radioactive waste for hundreds of thousands of years without degrading. Learn more about Materials and Radiation Effects.
NERS fields impact a variety of scientific disciplines. In space exploration, plasma thrusters and nuclear energy sources could power spacecraft on long-haul journeys. Using the most powerful laser in the world, NERS researchers can produce movies that show how plasmas expand at nearly the speed of light. Read more in Plasmas and Nuclear Fusion.
Radiation detection methods can identify atomic and chemical signatures in photons coming from planets and stars. Read more in Radiation Measurements and Imaging.
Materials researchers have discovered a way to see the hidden order in metallic glasses. These exceptionally springy metals bounce back to their original shape after being deformed, and they are nonmagnetic, but their applications are currently limited due to their brittleness. Understanding their microscopic order could help researchers create more supple metals that preserve the useful properties of metallic glasses. Read more about in Materials and Radiation Effects.
Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences