Monday, November 11, 2013

CSI: Nuclear

Bruce Pierson has 90 seconds to escape the maze of concrete blocks. He starts at the back of the lab, next to the neutron generator that will start up once the area is clear. Then he weaves through the alcoves, hitting checkpoints that ensure that no one is hidden away working, though they should be alerted by the flashing lights and wailing siren. Anyone trying to come into the area is sensed and admonished by a recording. Once Pierson is out, he locks the door, and the experiment can begin.

Pierson in the maze. The concrete structure on the left contains the neutron source.

In an era of sophisticated terrorist organizations and rogue states attempting to develop nuclear weapons, efforts to prevent nuclear attacks have focused on controlling the materials that could be used for bombs. But if one of these groups did manage a nuclear attack, what information could authorities gain from a careful examination after the blast? Could the remnants left behind reveal anything about the source of the weapons-grade materials?

Pierson, a graduate student in the department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences (NERS), is finding out. “In a situation where a nuclear bomb has gone off, you could go to ground zero get a piece of the blast debris from the melt glass underneath the crater. Trapped inside of that glass are the actinides that were used in the weapon,” he explained.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Sensing and software for advanced hybrid car battery systems

They may not know about everything under the hood of Ford’s new Fusion hybrid electric vehicle, but U-M researchers enjoy an up-close look at what’s under the back seat. Ford has supplied one of its most advanced batteries to a team of electrical, mechanical and chemical engineers. In collaboration with Ford and General Electric, (GE) the team is beginning a project that will monitor the thermal and mechanical stresses on battery cells and develop a battery management scheme to reduce those stresses and prolong battery life.

The complete battery pack in its steel case.
The project kicked off with the dissection of the battery pack, giving the team insights into today’s cutting-edge vehicle batteries from the “crash-worthy” steel casing to the cells. “It was a really fun day,” said professor of chemical engineering Charles Monroe.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Restoring U-M’s most extreme windows

Kevin Mayra wipes down the last pane in the window. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering.

Cleaning three-foot-thick windows, composed of 6-inch-thick panes that weigh up to 740 pounds each, was never going to be an easy task. But by undertaking it, Alex Flick, an engineer in the department of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences (NERS), could get the university’s second hot cell up and running again.

The hot cell will help the Radiation Materials Science group, led by Gary Was, professor of NERS, to gain insights on the aging of components that have spent decades in nuclear power reactors. Most of the reactors in the US are approaching or surpassing 40 years of service, and many are set to operate for another 20 years. With no new reactor construction since 1977, US reliance on fossil fuels will have to rise steeply if these reactors shut down before new ones can take their places. To keep them running safely and efficiently, nuclear engineers need be smart about making repairs – and that means figuring out what components will break and when.