Research, Technology & engineering

UC Berkeley to lead new $25M nuclear science and security consortium

Multi-institution consortium to focus on research that supports nuclear nonproliferation

A new $25 million grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) puts UC Berkeley at the head of a multi-institution consortium focused on research that supports nuclear science, national security and nuclear nonproliferation.

UC Berkeley is leading a new $25 million nuclear security and science consortium funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration. The consortium members include eight universities and five national laboratories. (Dollar Photo Club)

UC Berkeley is leading a new $25 million nuclear security and science consortium funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration. The consortium members include eight universities and five national laboratories. (Dollar Photo Club)

The five-year grant establishes the Nuclear Science and Engineering Nonproliferation Research Consortium, which consists of eight universities and five national laboratories.

“I am confident that more basic research efforts in academia will complement the applied efforts of the national laboratories and industry in supporting the critically important national security goals of our country,” said Anne Harrington, NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation in an NNSA press release announcing the award.

The other universities joining UC Berkeley are Michigan State University; UC Davis; UC Irvine; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; George Washington University; Texas A&M University; and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. The five national laboratories are Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

The new consortium will carry out cutting-edge research and development in four technical areas: nuclear and particle physics; radiochemistry and forensics; nuclear engineering; and nuclear instrumentation and radiation detection. In order to accomplish this goal, four crossover areas were added: nuclear data, modeling and simulation, nuclear security policy and education and training.

This is the second time NNSA has tapped UC Berkeley to lead a nuclear security consortium. Five years ago, the NNSA awarded $25 million to UC Berkeley to establish the National Science and Security Consortium (NSSC).

“In a way, we are continuing the work that began in 2011, but we’re improving upon what we’ve done, especially in the areas of nuclear data and nuclear security policy,” said Jasmina Vujic, a UC Berkeley professor and former chair of nuclear engineering, who is the principal investigator of both grants.

Most of the partners from the earlier consortium will continue on with this new phase. The additions are George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Texas A&M University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The NNSA lists three primary objectives for the consortium:

  • Provide an effective conduit for integration of basic academic and applied national laboratory research.
  • Provide basic research in concepts, technologies and paradigms that is complementary to lab research and required for meeting the nonproliferation mission.
  • Prepare new nonproliferation experts for careers in the Department of Energy labs and related federal service.

A key mission of the NSSC and the new consortium is to educate and train future experts in national nuclear security. Since 2011, the NSSC has trained about 350 students and postdoctoral scholars through a multidisciplinary program that provides hands-on training in nuclear science, technology and policy. Students and scholars spent considerable time working at partnering national laboratories through collaboration with more than 60 lab scientists.

“We give our students a very good basis in math, physics and chemistry so they could then move into any future area, including areas in nuclear science we might not even envision at this time,” said Vujic.

Vujic noted that the original consortium has produced more than 140 awards earned by faculty and students, including prestigious scholarships and fellowships. She also counted more than 170 collaborative publications and conference proceedings, and more than 600 oral and poster presentations on fundamental and applied research supporting the nuclear security mission. She emphasized that close to 40 NSSC fellows transition to staff and postdoctoral positions in DOE national labs, while other NSSC graduate went on to pursue careers in academia and at various institutes and laboratories.