Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Nuclear & Chemical Sciences | Research
On the frontier of nuclear physics, particle physics, and chemistry

The Nuclear and Chemical Sciences Division provides a vibrant, interdisciplinary culture of basic and applied science. Each group carries out research in multiple areas and collaborates with colleagues throughout the lab. Click on a group below to learn more.

Group Leader: Mike Kristo

The Chemical & Isotopic Signatures (C&IS) group analyzes geological, extraterrestrial, biological, and nuclear materials and exploits elemental and isotopic systematics within those materials to understand provenance of those materials and processes involved in their formation. Nuclear forensics is a key focus area for our group, and we are responsible for the high-precision isotopic, trace element, and microanalytical measurements that underpin LLNL’s position as one of the premier nuclear forensics laboratories in the world. The C&IS group also has a dynamic research program focusing on cosmochemical investigations of early solar system processes. The broad range of bulk and in situ analytical techniques we utilize, and our interpretation of the results, have resulted in numerous high-impact publications. Other areas of research for the C&IS group include non-proliferation, geochemistry, nuclear fallout formation, and material science.

Group Leader: Jennifer Pett-Ridge

The Environmental Isotope Systems group is a diverse group of systems biologists, geochemists, and radiochemists who focus on a range of multidisciplinary approaches to understand natural and human impacted environments. Areas of current research include how subsurface biogeochemistry controls transport of actinides in the environment, the role of microbial communities in the terrestrial carbon cycle, tracing groundwater and contaminants to predict climate change impacts on water resources, and how microbiomes shape productivity of bioenergy-relevant plant and algal crops. Group members also work on environmental proliferation detection and monitor radionuclides in air, water, and soil on the main LLNL site and Site 300. Our work involves a wide variety of radio- and stable isotope enabled methods and inorganic mass spectrometric techniques, including NanoSIMS isotopic imaging, noble gas mass spectrometry, and stable isotope mass spectrometry. Many projects emphasize use of novel techniques and new methods, including new isotope-enable tracing methods for microbial, soil, and groundwater systems and the development of new mass spectrometry-based techniques for nuclear forensics applications. Our work is primarily funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Biological and Environmental Research and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Group Leader: Deon Anex

The Forensic Science & Assessments group provides key scientific and technological subject matter expertise to the Laboratory’s Forensic Science Center (FSC) and Intelligence Program. In the FSC, our group’s work includes: understanding physicochemical and physiological effects of chemical threat agents, evaluating novel chemical synthesis methods and specific chemical signatures associated with these methods, developing analytical methods to determine and support source forensics studies, investigating biomedical exposure signatures, managing consequences and related activities, creating new approaches to traditional forensic methods, and developing environmental and medical countermeasures. Through its participation in the Laboratory’s Intelligence Program, our group provides comprehensive technical assessments and operational support to U.S. WMD counterproliferation and counterterrorism missions.

Group Leader: Ron Soltz

The Nuclear & Particle Physics group at LLNL consists of about twenty staff scientists and ten postdocs dedicated to probing fundamental interactions of elementary particles and nuclei while also using their skills to address emerging national and global security challenges within the evolving landscape for nuclear security. The group employs and recruits scientists with expertise in accelerator physics, detector design and construction, and complex data analysis and who draw on state-of-the-art engineering and high-performance computing facilities.

Group Leader: Dawn Shaughnessy

The Nuclear & Radiochemistry Group performs fundamental and applied research and development in nuclear science. This includes the development and implementation of advanced experimental methods, radiochemical separations techniques, and data evaluation/interpretation capabilities. Laboratory programs that we support include the National Ignition Facility (NIF), stockpile stewardship, nuclear forensics, nuclear energy, and intelligence. We also have active nuclear and radiochemical collaborations domestically and internationally in areas such as the chemistry and physics of the heaviest elements, automated radiochemistry, NIF radiochemical measurements, post-detonation debris diagnostics, and fireball condensation chemistry. Our group specializes in radiochemical separations to isolate subtle nuclear signatures from a wide variety of matrices, as well as in the preparation and exploitation of unique target materials for nuclear data measurements. Our staff has primary responsibility for radiochemical diagnostics at NIF, including operational analytic measurements and the conduct of dedicated laser shots to assess specific isotope properties within extraordinary plasma environments. Our staff also has primary responsibility for providing radiochemical evaluations of nuclear device performance in support of the stockpile stewardship and post-detonation nuclear forensics missions. These evaluations provide data that are essential to constrain the design physics models developed by Weapons and Complex Integration (WCI) and Global Security. We are also the lead group at LLNL for the detailed forensic analyses of real-world nuclear smuggling samples interdicted (or otherwise obtained) by law-enforcement and intelligence-community agencies.

Group Leader: Bret Beck

The Nuclear Data & Theory (NDT) group performs research in nuclear theory to provide a fundamental understanding of atomic nuclei, their role in the universe, and how they impact the Laboratory’s national security missions. Utilizing the Laboratory’s high-performance computing resources, we explore the nuclear many-body problem beginning with the glue that binds quarks into protons and neutrons and how these protons and neutrons themselves bind into the nuclei that make up most of the visible matter in the universe. We are developing new theories and computational tools to describe nuclear reactions ranging from fusion to fission, which are responsible for powering the stars, forging the elements in the cosmos, and are the source of energy in nuclear weapons. We not only characterize these reactions with fundamental theories, but also tabulate them in extensive numerical libraries using ground-breaking formats.

Group Leader: Simon Labov

The security of nuclear and radiological weapons and materials is a major concern for LLNL. Improved capabilities are needed to address nuclear proliferation detection, arms control verification, nuclear safeguards, nuclear terrorism prevention, and consequence management. The Nuclear Security Physics (NSP) group mission is to apply nuclear physics, high energy physics, and astrophysics science, technology, and expertise to address the illicit production or diversion of special nuclear material and related threats. The NSP group uses domain expertise from these fields, in addition to knowledge obtained from participating with, and training of, first responders, to develop better instrumentation, improved signatures, and new analysis techniques for the detection, classification, identification, localization, tracking, and defeat of the unauthorized use of nuclear materials. The NSP group serves as a conduit between the nuclear and high energy physics communities and the Global Security research needs. Within LLNL, the NSP group serves to communicate the program needs to the NACS science and technology (S&T) staff while helping to make the NACS S&T capabilities accessible to the programs. Outside of LLNL, the NSP group recruits expertise from and fosters collaborations with the nuclear science and engineering communities, publishes results in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and tracks placement opportunities in universities, national laboratories, and industry.

Group Leader: Adam Bernstein

In both fundamental and applied nuclear physics, researchers and users of radiation detection equipment are often confronted with the need to extract a weak signal from a strong, fluctuating, uncertain, and more copious background. This area of research is sometimes referred to as rare event detection, where the rareness is defined as a rate relative to background. The Rare Event Detection (RED) group develops advanced methods for a particular kind of rare event: keV-MeV scale energy depositions arising from neutral particles, including gamma-rays, neutrons, neutrinos, and dark matter. Neutral particle detectors in this energy range are crucial for both fundamental science, especially particle astrophysics, and applied nuclear science, for nuclear nonproliferation, arms control, and nuclear materials monitoring. The RED group staff’s training in both nuclear security applications and fundamental nuclear science allows the group and the Laboratory to effectively exploit the strong technological synergies that exist between these two areas of research. Group members lead or participate in ongoing international fundamental science collaborations, including the LUX/LZ Dark Matter experiment, the development of large water Cherenkov detectors for fundamental science and remote reactor monitoring, the PROSPECT sterile neutrino search experiment, and the ADMX axion dark matter search experiment. The group uses the same detection concepts, with different optimizations, to develop innovative gamma-ray, neutron, and antineutrino detectors to improve IAEA safeguards, to verify nuclear arms control agreements, and for screening and characterization of nuclear material in a wide range of monitoring contexts. Examples include passive and active gamma-ray tomographic systems for spent fuel, segmented scintillator arrays for precise characterization of fissile content in shielded materials, and novel detectors for characterizing the fissile content of spent fuel using information derived from antineutrino spectra. More information about our research is available on the Applied Antineutrino Physics website.

The group’s work was featured in a Science Friday spotlight titled “Looking at Light for Signs of Dark Matter.”

Group Leader: Bryan Bandong

With a staffing combination of nuclear scientists, engineers, radiochemists, health physicists, and radiation safety subject matter experts, our group is uniquely positioned to support mission-critical programs in nuclear counterterrorism, nuclear security and nonproliferation, and emergency response. Our research and development activities are focused on advanced radiation detection and nuclear measurements for applications in technical nuclear forensics and countermeasures, next generation technical safeguards and global threat reduction initiatives, and arms control and verification, including assisting the US government in interagency and international treaty negotiations. Our staff is engaged in the development of concepts of operations (CONOPS) and in research, test, and evaluation of field systems in support of various international and national (DOE, DoD, DHS) programs in nuclear and radiological emergency response, consequence management, preventive radiological/nuclear detection architectures, and the interdiction of illicit transport of nuclear and radiological materials. Activities include development, setup, and test and evaluation of land-based or aerial/marine-borne detection systems customized to the needs and applications of federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies; outreach, training, and field exercises for first responders on the use of portable or fieldable detection systems, technical reach back, and the fabrication of high-fidelity realistic surrogate test and exercise radiological/nuclear materials for use with analytical method validation and proficiency testing.