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Experience shines at student scintillation detector workshop

A group of people outside standing in front of trees and buildings
From left, scintillation scholars from the University of Michigan (unless otherwise noted) are Tessa Maurer, Jason Nattress (ORNL), Emma Guerin, Colleen Campbell, River Bennett, Luiz Azevedo, Ricardo Lopez, Jordan Noey, Flynn Darby, Colton Graham, Sara Pozzi, Michael Febbraro (ORNL), Shaun Clarke and Ben Thomas (ORNL). Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Nine student physicists and engineers from the #1-ranked Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences Program at the University of Michigan, or UM, attended a scintillation detector workshop at Oak Ridge National Laboratory Oct. 10-13. ORNL has a longstanding partnership with UM to develop the next generation of nuclear scientists and engineers.

A scintillator is a material that exhibits prompt luminescence when excited by ionizing radiation. Scintillating materials are used in many radiation detectors employed for nuclear and high-energy physics experiments, global and national security, medical imaging and nuclear fuel cycle monitoring.

The workshop provided hands-on opportunities for students to make two scintillation detectors – one from a basic existing design and one from an original design that the students had conceptualized.

“This practicum is a way for students to start from first principles and create something from scratch,” said ORNL physicist Jason Nattress. “It makes students understand how something is created, and not just how something works.”

Nattress organized the workshop with ORNL physicist Michael Febbraro, UM Professor Sara Pozzi (a former ORNL staff scientist) and UM research scientist Shaun Clarke. The workshop is part of a UM physics course titled “New Scintillators.” 

“Training the next generation of scientists and engineers is one of the most important things we can do to ensure humanity keeps moving forward,” said Febbraro, who has given the workshop previously to Air Force Institute of Technology students. “This is exactly what this course hopes to do.”

The training helps students along a career path that aims to develop new ways to identify and characterize nuclear materials.

“ORNL is a great laboratory where physicists get to learn about how chemistry is connected to radiation detection,” said UM graduate student Jordan Noey.

Tessa Maurer, also a UM graduate student, agreed: “We always work with the final product. This class gave us the opportunity to start with raw materials and possibly create something that no one else has yet.”

At the end of the practicum, students brought the scintillators they made at ORNL back to UM for testing and characterization in their own laboratory.

The workshop was co-hosted by ORNL and the Consortium for Monitoring Technology and Verification, or MTV, an organization of 14 universities and 13 national laboratories led by UM. The MTV is funded by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development with cost sharing from UM.— by Dawn Levy