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DOE awards Idaho State University’s Burgett $2 million for developing advanced radiation detectors, measuring fuel inside reactors

Posted August 10, 2011

The Department of Energy has awarded two grants totaling about $2 million to Idaho State University's Eric Burgett to develop advanced radiation detectors and measure fuel inside nuclear reactors.

This week the DOE announced it awarded $39 million to 51 projects at universities to bolster nuclear research and development; ISU received 5 percent of that total.

"This is huge for our nuclear engineering program and a credit to Eric that he is on the leading edge of radiation and nuclear research in two different areas," said George Imel, dean of the ISU College of Science and Engineering. "It speaks well for the entire university."

Burgett, an assistant professor in the ISU School of Engineering Department of Nuclear Engineering and Health Physics, received one grant for $1.19 million to measure fuel inside of reactors and $800,000 to develop advanced radiation detectors.

"Receiving these grants was only made possible by the fact that we have our new IJRC Research Center," Burgett said, referring to the Ballard Building in the ISU Research Park that was purchased by ISU this spring. "The space and equipment provided at the new facility helps us move forward in a multi-disciplinary effort, working with a number of different universities. We just couldn’t have done this with our old space."

 One of the huge issues in advanced reactor research is monitoring reactor core fuel behavior, Imel said, referring to the Burgett’s grant to measure fuel inside of reactors.

"Research in this area is extremely difficult, but the payoffs can be amazing," Imel said.

Burgett said he's building on a multidisciplinary approach, including material sciences, electrical engineering and nuclear engineering to develop "game-changing" technologies.

"For measuring fuel inside a reactor, you can't imagine a worse environment," Burgett said. "The radiation levels, extreme temperatures and pressures are almost unimaginable. Our study is an application of nanotechnology. It is applied research to a real-world problem: not only do we push the theory, but we’re pushing a theory to drive a solution to a real-world need."

Burgett's second study, developing new types of radiation detectors, is no less challenging.

"This is another leading-edge topic that has impacts in nuclear research, and many other fields.  This technology has been difficult to demonstrate yet because of the extreme hostile environment these detectors have to operate in, or the high precision measurements these detectors are required to make," Burgett said.

The titles of Burgett's grants are "In-Pile Instrumentation Multi-Parameter System Utilizing Photonic Fibers and Nanovision" and "Plasmonically Cloaked and Metamaterial Neutron Scintillators." More information on these grants is available at: