Texas A&M, TEES experts receive $1.5 million NSF grant for nuclear security
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Nuclear security experts at Texas A&M University and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station have been awarded the first $1.5 million installment of an eventual total of $7.5 million in funding to develop new sensor systems to detect nuclear or radiological weapons before they can be smuggled into the United States. The five-year National Science Foundation grant will allow a multidisciplinary team of nuclear, electrical, systems and chemical engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists and public policy experts at Texas A&M to develop revolutionary new sensor technologies that will alert security forces to highly enriched uranium or plutonium hidden in seaborne or vehicle cargoes, said Dr. William S. Charlton. Charlton, an associate professor in Texas A&M's Department of Nuclear Engineering, is the director of the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute (NSSPI), which is managing the research project. "We are developing a new framework in which sensor technologies are developed as integrated systems combining sensor arrays and signal and information analysis. We are investigating first what performance characteristics a detector must have to work most effectively for this unique problem," Charlton said. "Then we will use the array of expertise on the project team to develop a detection system that will show order of magnitude improvement in detection capability." The most important tasks for the new detector system will be to detect very small amounts of radioactivity consistently and determine its location accurately - down to a single shipping container or vehicle, Charlton said. As the engineers and scientists develop the technology for the sensor system, policy experts at the Institute for Science Technology and Public Policy in the George Bush School of Government and Public Service and at the department of political science in the College of Liberal Arts will build on the science and engineering models to develop policy options to enable security agencies to use the equipment most effectively on an international basis, said Dr. David R. Boyle, NSSPI deputy director. "The federal sponsors of this competition were concerned about the policy implications of this work, and one of NSSPI's strengths is its ability to work at the interface of technology and policy," Boyle said. The funding of this project, which involves a team effort by the National Science Foundation and federal homeland security authorities, recognizes Texas A&M's expertise in both nuclear and homeland security issues, said Dr. G. Kemble Bennett, vice chancellor and dean of engineering. "We have worked hard for several years to grow our expertise and capabilities in these areas, and this project is proof that we are succeeding," Bennett said. Bennett noted that U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, whose district includes Texas A&M's College Station campus, was instrumental in obtaining funding for establishing the Nuclear Security Science and Policy Institute at Texas A&M. NSSPI is a joint endeavor of Texas A&M University and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, the engineering research agency of the State of Texas and a member of The Texas A&M University System.