WASHINGTON — The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration announced the establishment of a $25 million cooperative agreement with a University of Florida-led consortium of 16 universities for research in topical areas relevant to nuclear forensics. This long-term investment will support the consortium at $5 million per year for five years. The purpose of this consortium is to educate the next generation of nuclear forensic scientists and engineers while engaging in research and development spanning basic aspects of new technology and methods to programmatic work directly supporting the nuclear security and nonproliferation missions of NNSA. The establishment of this cooperative agreement followed the announcement of a funding opportunity issued in August 2022.

The other consortium member institutions include Oregon State University; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Pennsylvania State University; Texas A&M University; City University of New York; University of Michigan; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; University of Central Florida; Clemson University; North Carolina State University; Notre Dame; Iowa State University; South Carolina State University; George Washington University; and University of California, Berkeley. These 16 universities partner with seven national laboratories: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Sandia National Laboratories; and Savannah River National Laboratory.

“The role of universities for nuclear forensics research is to innovate and develop some of the most challenging and fundamental aspects of new technology and methods,” said Dr. Keith McManus, University Program Manager for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development at NNSA. “Once these basic aspects have been proven at the university level, the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories can fulfill their unique role to perform mission-specific research and development that improves on capabilities for adoption by operational enterprises. I am confident the team led by the University of Florida is up to the challenge and will produce outstanding research contributions.”   

The new consortium will address the gaps and challenges within important research fields in nuclear forensics through five research thrust areas: rapid turnaround forensics, advanced analytical methods, ultrasensitive measurements, signature discovery, and prompt effects and measurements. The team also plans to use its expertise in high-performance computing and data science to crosscut the thrust areas with artificial intelligence-driven capabilities to accelerate solutions within individual thrust areas. This structure allows them to best connect their broad expertise to address existing challenges in the nuclear forensics field. It also facilitates the exchange of ideas and technologies between consortium partners and develops trained personnel across a comprehensive range of disciplines.

The direct outcome of this program is the development of a diverse and highly talented cadre of nuclear forensics professionals with skill sets grounded in foundational disciplines including radiochemistry, geochemistry, nuclear physics, nuclear engineering, materials science, shock physics, quantum science, and analytical chemistry. These professionals will have careers as scientists, engineers, technicians, operational personnel, and intelligence professionals, among others and will be leaders in active in nuclear forensics, nuclear nonproliferation, nuclear arms control, nuclear incident response, nuclear intelligence activities, nuclear energy, and other nuclear-related fields. These professionals are expected to benefit academia, private industry, and several US government agencies, including Energy, Homeland Security, Defense, State, Justice, and the Intelligence Community.