Berkeley hosts nuclear science and security conference

Challenges and careers at the intersection of nuclear science, technology and public policy will be prime topics this week at UC Berkeley as budding scientists and seasoned experts gather for the inaugural Nuclear Science and Security Consortium Summer School.

The weeklong event brings together students and faculty from Berkeley and six partner schools with policymakers and senior scientists from four national laboratories — Lawrence Berkeley, Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia — for a series of workshops, panel discussions, research presentations, facility tours and networking opportunities.

Nuclear Science and Security Consortium

The summer school is part of a $25 million initiative that brings together budding researchers and seasoned scientists to train the next generation of nuclear experts. (Photo courtesy Nuclear Science and Security Consortium)

The summer school is part of a $25 million, five-year initiative of the National Nuclear Security Administration that aims to train the next generation of research and policy experts in nuclear science, security and safety.

“The nuclear field has been neglected for the last 30 years with a real lack of investment directed to training new scientists,” says Jasmina Vujic, professor of nuclear engineering at Berkeley and director of the consortium. “As a result, there’s no overlap between the current generation, which is nearing retirement, and the next generation of experts, who will replace them.”

Launched in 2011, the program targets undergraduates, graduates and postdoctoral fellows across the key fields of nuclear physics and engineering, radiation chemistry, instrumentation and public policy, offering practical experience with advanced theoretical and experimental work.

Focused on hands-on research, training and mentoring, the initiative aims to integrate students with the national lab system, engaging them in the full spectrum of nuclear-related issues from terrorism and reactor meltdowns to new technology and nonproliferation.

“It’s critical that we build a pipeline of young talent across these areas,” says Karl Van Bibber, chair of the nuclear engineering department at Berkeley and executive director of the consortium. “But we’re also building a community of experts who can and will call on one another to solve the complex problems they will undoubtedly face down the road.”

Amid the summer school’s many lectures and talks, Tuesday’s open poster session at Skydeck in downtown Berkeley will showcase the active projects of some 50 student researchers from Berkeley; Michigan State; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Washington University in St. Louis; and the UC campuses of Davis, Irvine and San Diego.

Roger Wiens, a senior research scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, will discuss his work developing the ChemCam laser-spectroscopy technology for NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity during Monday evening’s keynote lecture at the Faculty Club. George Lucas, professor of ethics and public policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, will discuss issues of science and policy during a keynote address Thursday afternoon.