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ISU nuclear engineering professor receives $800,000 grant for materials science research

October 25, 2019

IDAHO FALLS – Idaho State University nuclear engineering Associate Professor Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar is the principal investigator on a $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Energy University Program to study itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny, 10-to-the-minus-6-meter materials to determine their strength to support development of new nuclear fuels.

Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar headshotThe overall project, which includes work with the Idaho National Laboratory, has two objectives:

• Develop a technique for making tiny samples and then testing their strength under a very powerful microscope.

• Make this technique available to other researchers.

“We will be working with very tiny samples that you can’t see with the naked eye,” Dunzik-Gougar said. “We will be testing a new type of particle fuel being developed and tested at the INL. We'll take little slices of the coating of these particles on the micrometer scale. Because these particles are so small, it is difficult to test the property of the layers. In order to predict and monitor the behavior of these particles, we need to know the strength of individual layers.”

They are developing a process to cut “dog bone” samples of the coating layer from the particles and then put these tiny samples under a powerful microscope and measure the force required to break them apart.

“It’s really fine-scale measurement,” Dunzik-Gougar said. “Once we have this process developed we will open this capability to other researchers so they can benefit and test other materials on that scale. There are so many new materials being developed for applications that require small samples, that are difficult to test. Properties change a bit when you change the size of a sample.”

Results of this work will fill an identified knowledge gap regarding strengths of individual layers, and of bonds between layers, of “TRISO-coated particles under development in DOE’s Advanced Gas Program.”

The official title of her grant is “Measuring Mechanical Properties of Select Layers and Layer Interfaces of TRISO Particles via Micromachining and In-Microscope Tensile Testing.”

Collaborators on the project include ISU faculty/staff Daniel LaBrier and Scott McBeath, ISU graduate student Tanner Mauseth, and Isabella van Rooyen and Subbhashish Meher from the INL’s Nuclear Reactor Technologies Program.

The grant will fund the time of the researchers from ISU and the INL, support an ISU graduate student and the operation and maintenance of the instruments used to complete the work. The researchers will also buy a new piece of equipment that can supplement what is already available in the ISU Eames Advanced Technical Education and Innovations Complex’s microscopy lab in Pocatello.  

Photo information: Associate Professor Mary Lou Dunzik-Gougar



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