Detecting Nuclear Materials | February 26, 2007 Issue - Vol. 85 Issue 9 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 9 | p. 10 | News of The Week
Issue Date: February 26, 2007

Detecting Nuclear Materials

Two agencies unite to spur academic research in breakthrough technologies
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Homeland Security
A cargo container is driven through an Advanced Spectroscopic Portal.
Credit: DHS
A cargo container is driven through an Advanced Spectroscopic Portal.
Credit: DHS

THE DEPARTMENT of Homeland Security's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) is joining forces with NSF to reach out with $58 million to the academic community to foster high-risk, high-potential nuclear detection research that would leapfrog current detection technologies.

This first-time collaboration between DNDO and NSF—dubbed the Academic Research Initiative—will eventually support up to 34 academic grants over a five-year period. Up to 23 grants are expected to be awarded by Sept. 30. "We are looking forward to some excellent proposals from the academic community in what is a vitally important area relative to protecting the nation from domestic nuclear terrorism," says Bruce Hamilton, a program director in NSF's Engineering Directorate.

According to NSF spokesman Joshua Chamot, the initiative is "unique in that DHS is providing the funding, but NSF is providing its expertise in pulling together panels for peer review of the proposals." Awards will be decided jointly by DNDO and NSF.

DNDO spokeswoman Jenny Burke also points out a key goal of the program: the linking of research and education "to develop the human capital in nuclear and radiological detection" within academia. In short, the program aims to boost the number of academic researchers working in the nuclear sciences.

The initiative will only support so-called frontier research. Proposals emphasizing incremental or evolutionary advances in well-established science will not be accepted. Instead, the program is seeking real breakthroughs in detection capabilities, Chamot explains.

Examples of such breakthroughs could include the miniaturization of detection equipment or the development of detectors that exploit nontraditional methods of detecting particle interaction in a material.

In a related matter, DHS's Science & Technology Directorate, which along with DNDO supports research and development, plans to spend $12 million to set up and support four additional university-based Centers of Excellence. One of these new centers would focus on explosives detection, mitigation, and response. Another center, in this post-Katrina era, would focus on natural disasters, coastal infrastructure, and emergency management. The directorate currently supports seven centers.

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