Researchers at Rensselaer have received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to model how different metals are affected by neutron irradiation.
The new three-year study, awarded by the DoD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency and led by Suvranu De, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer, could lead to more effective, more predictable performance of electronic shielding materials in satellites and structural components in submarines and nuclear reactors.
“When satellites are exposed to radiation in space, neutrons impact the atoms of the satellite components, dislodging them from their original positions. These atoms then collide with others, starting a cascade that could ultimately lead to the metal becoming brittle,” De said. “You don’t want a brittle wall on a nuclear submarine, or the electronics in a satellite to be exposed to radiation, so we’re looking very carefully at how the mechanical properties of metals change over time when exposed to radiation. This should allow us to accurately predict the expected lifespan of these metals, and then design better devices.”
De and his team will build complex computational models to simulate the irradiation of different metals at the atomic level, and then scale up to see how the phenomena at the atomic level impact the overall mechanical properties of the material and device.
Starting at the nanoscale, and employing quantum mechanics, the model will look at the cause-and-effect of atomic events that last mere picoseconds or one-trillionths of a second. That nanoscale model will inform a microscale model, which measures events in microseconds and nanoseconds, or one-millionths to one-billionths of a second. Similarly, the microscale model will feed into a larger model, which in turn will feed into the fourth, life-size model which measures the irradiation of metals in terms of seconds, days, and years.
“Using quantum mechanics, we can predict what happens when a single neutron knocks out a few atoms from where they’re supposed to be, and then trace that chain reaction from the atomic scale to the microscale, mesoscale, and finally to the macroscale to see how that initial atomic fender bender leads to the eventual mechanical failure of the device,” De said. “We hope this research will lead to the design of self-healing metals that can withstand radiation for long periods of time without endangering their structural integrity or mechanical properties.
De is working on this study with Hanchen Huang, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut.
Send comments to:
Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
1000 Troy Building, 110 Eighth Street, Troy, N.Y. 12180 or to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute | About RPI | Virtual Campus Tour | Academics | Research | Student Life | Admissions | News & Events|