Steve Yates, a professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Physics & Astronomy and Director of the University of Kentucky Accelerator Laboratory (UKAL), recently received two grants. One of these awards  is a renewal of funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which extends continuous NSF funding of work at UKAL to greater than fifty years. This research is focused on advancing our fundamental understanding of the atomic nucleus. The nucleus, composed of protons and neutrons, is billions of times smaller than is visible with the human eye. Some nuclei are spherical in shape, while others are deformed in oblate (like a Frisbee) or prolate (like a football) shapes; the shape of the nucleus is unique for each isotope of each element. Because we cannot take an ordinary photograph of the nucleus to investigate its shape and structure, other methods must be employed. With a particle accelerator and a nuclear reaction, neutrons are produced, which can scatter from the nucleus. In the process, the nucleus gains and subsequently releases energy that can be detected. This information is used to “develop a photo” of the nucleus and gain an understanding of how the neutrons and protons in the nucleus contribute to its properties.
The second grant , from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Agency under its Stewardship Science Academic Alliance, is in collaboration with researchers from the University of Dallas and the U.S. Naval Academy. The focus of this work is to measure the probabilities of neutron scattering from materials of interest in the design of advanced nuclear reactors and reactor fuels and to the nanoelectronics industry.
Education at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate levels is an emphasis in UKAL activities. Graduates of this research program receive hands-on experience with particle accelerator operation, nuclear science instrumentation, radiation detection, and data acquisition systems, and emerge as well-trained nuclear scientists who are capable of important contributions to our national needs.
1. “Probing Nuclear Structure with Fast Neutrons,” Steven W. Yates, National Science Foundation, $880,000, PHY-1606890, 7/1/16-6/30/19.
2. “Elastic and Inelastic Differential Cross Sections on Iron, Silicon, and Carbon,” Steven W. Yates, PI, with Marcus T. McEllistrem (UK), Sally F. Hicks (University of Dallas), Jeffrey R. Vanhoy (U.S. Naval Academy), National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Stewardship Science Academic Alliances (SSAA) Program, $690,000, 3/15/16-3/14/19.