TThe staff of the U.S. Department of Energy (USDE) awarded Cornelius "Con" Beausang, University of Richmond physics department chairman, a $513,000 grant to fund his research on nuclear stewardship.
"Nuclear stewardship science is trying to understand the details in the science behind nuclear weapons," Beausang said. "Research helps ensure that there is never again a need to test those weapons, which is good."
Beausang said that in order to stop testing nuclear weapons, someone had to guarantee through other means that the weapons would work. Proving a weapon's effectiveness without using it is the goal of nuclear stewardship.
Beausang became interested in physics in high school because it was a subject he was good at, he said. "Physics is fun," he said. "Physics explains how the universe works."
In 2001, after the terrorist attacks in New York, nuclear stewardship emerged as a field, and he became personally involved.
Unfortunately, the field has not grown in the last five years, Beausang said, because the two main agencies that fund nuclear stewardship in the U.S., the National Science Foundation and the USDE, have limited financial resources for research. "The U.S. is the world leader in the field, and it needs to invest to keep that happening," Beausang said.
Beausang received his first grant from the USDE in 2001, when he first began researching nuclei. His grant proposal this year was accepted for his "excellent science," he said. Beausang said he had continued to meet the research goals he had outlined in each grant proposal, and that was why the USDE continued to fund his work.
The biggest benefit of the grant money is people, he said. The grant allows Beausang and his physics students to meet other national scientists working in nuclear stewardship, as well as fund current postdoctoral student Richard Hughes and graduate student Tim Ross. The grant money is also used to fund some students' summer research. Beausang said twelve students had been involved in the research so far.
"They're great," Beausang said of the summer assistants. "I love working with students because they ask the questions. They learn quickly, and they help me a lot."
Three students, Kristen Gell, Erin Good and Tom Tarlow, were paid by The School of Arts and Sciences fellowships to do research in Beausang's lab this year, he said, and all three of them traveled with Beausang to California to present their findings at the Division of Nuclear Physics meeting of the American Physical Society.
Gell has enjoyed working with Beausang because "he's definitely very intelligent and knows what he's talking about," she said. "He has great experience in the field and a great sense of humor, and he's a good guy to talk to. He's easy to work with, and yet I learned so much over the summer."
Beausang's work has brought recognition to the university and has given the school a name in the physics community, Gell said.
Good spent the summer focusing on gamma ray spectroscopy. She analyzed nuclear isotopes around 88 Yttrium, a soft, silver, chemically stable metal used to make phosphorescent and fluorescent materials, to find new gamma rays. "Gamma ray spectroscopy helps us to know the shapes of nuclei and can be used to identify isotopes when we don't know what we're looking at."
Although nuclear stewardship is a recent area of physics, Good said she felt interest in their work was growing. "It has so many applications like radiation therapy and new methods and innovations in that field, nuclear power and working for the government to detect threats and making sure the many nuclear bombs we have work without blowing them up," she said. "I don't know if that means that more people will be attracted to it, though. Not many people are in the field."
Part of the trouble with attracting people to nuclear stewardship is getting them into a physics class first, she said. "I doubt more people will get involved, if only because people are terrified of or hate physics in general," Good said. "And while we have more people than before, we're only graduating like 15 people this year. People are just scared of it, even though it makes all their technology work, powers their homes and lets them live life at the comfort level they're used to."
Beausang said that much of the money used for traveling to the DNP conference where these students presented their projects had come from members of the DNP and from his USDE grant.
Beausang has accrued more than $1,000,000 in grants since beginning his nuclear research, but the money hasn't made much of an impact on him.
"The university's profile is certainly greater because of this grant and because of me in terms of national prominence," he said.
Contact staff writer Rachel Bevels at firstname.lastname@example.org