One of the nation’s oldest organizations dedicated to beneficial use of atomic energy- the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project- has awarded four small grants to a new class of awardees. These small grants allow researchers to explore interesting, risky “first” questions in lines of inquiry that could lead to unexpected breakthroughs and larger projects. The grants in this year’s round of awards will provide seed funding for work that could lead to less dangerous painkillers, safer nuclear power plants, better energy storage, and safer maintenance of nuclear waste products.
The University of Michigan established the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project in 1948 as a way to honor the 579 members of the U-M community who lost their lives in the Second World War. Its mission: “to explore the ways and means by which the potentialities of atomic energy may become a beneficent influence in the life of man.” In addition to supporting the construction and use of the Ford Nuclear Reactor, now decommissioned, the Phoenix Project has helped fund studies on the applications of nuclear technology in such fields as medicine, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, archeology, engineering, and law.
Seed funding projects are awarded once per year to U-M researchers working in collaborative teams. For full information about program criteria, read more here.
The four exploratory projects are listed below.
Attacking pain: Exploring new receptors for painkillers
Peter Scott, Radiology
James Woods, Pharmacology
Xia Shao, Radiology
Though today’s opioid painkillers are effective, many pain relief methods are accompanied by serious side effects, including dependence and reduced efficacy over time. Finding a strong, effective, and non-addictive painkiller requires exploring new receptors- the molecules found on the surface of cells that enable our bodies’ biochemical conversations with drugs. This project will use Positron Emission Technology (PET), a nuclear medical imaging technique, to map the interaction between various promising analgesic test compounds with the receptors that may process our experience of pain.
Contact Peter Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Making nuclear power plants safer
Yugo Ashida, Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences
Jwo Pan, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Even the materials that nuclear power plants are built with respond to radiation. This project will focus on the development of a predictive model for how radiation-assisted cracks could be controlled in nuclear power plants. Such a model could help to safely extend the life of existing plants and inform planning and materials selection for next-generation ones. The researchers plan to develop the model using Strain Rate Acceleration (SRA)- a technique by which they will be able to see how materials- in this case, stainless steel- change at different length scales before cracking starts.
Contact Yugo Ashida at email@example.com.
Activating for a better understanding of energy storage mechanisms
Jason Siegel, Mechanical Engineering
Levi Thompson, Professor of Chemical Engineering
Supercapacitors are a relatively new type of storage device that combine the fast charge acceptance properties of a capacitor with the higher energy storage capability of a battery. A supercapacitor-based energy storage device could allow drivers to charge their electric vehicle in minutes instead of hours. Early transition metal nitrides are a potential material for use in these devices, but researchers need to understand far more about how and why they work in order use them effectively. A key to understanding their performance is mapping how protons move into these nanostructured materials using neutron activation analysis. This will enable optimization of the materials for higher energy and power density.
Contact Jason Siegel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Measuring a nuclear material inside a shielded container
Shaun Clarke, Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences
Nuclear storage containers are of course designed to keep what’s inside from getting out- which is great until you want to monitor the status of the contents. Though some methods for tracking nuclear material from outside a container exist, more accurate methods are needed. This project aims to design and optimize a new type of system that will be effective for even heavily shielded containers.
Contact Shaun Clarke at email@example.com.
About the University of Michigan Energy Institute
The Energy Institute’s mission is to chart the path to a clean, affordable and sustainable energy future by applying our strengths in public policy, economics, business and social sciences to lay the foundation for successful implementation of our scientific and technological achievements.