The Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) is supporting the development of the next generation of nuclear forensic scientists through two major academic award initiatives. The Nuclear Forensics Education Award Program (NFEAP) and the Academic Research Imitative (ARI) are enabling universities like Texas A&M University (TAMU) to develop an interdisciplinary radiochemistry program with strong ties to national laboratories.
The Nuclear Forensics Education Award Program (NFEAP), supported by DNDO and the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, awards cost-shared grants to colleges and universities to support educational programs in areas such as radiochemistry and nuclear physics. The initiative is part of the broader National Nuclear Forensics Expertise Development Program, launched by DNDO in 2008 and codified by the 2010 Nuclear Forensics and Attribution Act (P.L. 111-140).
Through the NFEAP award, TAMU is developing an interdisciplinary graduate certificate program that will provide a strong foundation in radiochemistry, relevant fundamentals of nuclear engineering, and inverse problem solving and help channel nuclear engineers, radiochemists, and other science disciplines into the nuclear forensics expertise pipeline. To date, 61 TAMU students have enrolled in four key courses courses, and nine students have engaged in nuclear forensics research. The program also gives students the opportunity to acquire practical experience through a summer internship; TAMU has organized summer internships at national laboratories and similar organizations for 27 students in the first two years of the three-year NFEAP award.
DNDO and the National Science Foundation have also jointly executed the ARI grant program to invest in multi-year, leading-edge research at academic institutions, including TAMU. The ARI program to date has awarded 57 grants and invested over $65 million in early applied research to prevent nuclear terrorism. Through their 2011 ARI award, researchers from the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute and Cyclotron Institute at TAMU are teaming up with colleagues in the national nuclear laboratories to identify unique, indelible characteristics that can be associated with weapons-grade plutonium (Pu) made in certain types of nuclear reactors.
TAMU is building a national nuclear security pipeline that provides the next generation of researchers with talent and motivation to pursue careers in this important field. Through programs like the NFEAP and ARI, DNDO remains committed to advancing the U.S. government nuclear forensics mission and strengthening the nuclear forensics expertise pipeline.