Michelle Lee

Analyzing neutron activation of materials following a nuclear explosion

If a nuclear weapon exploded in an urban environment, the effects would be catastrophic. Governments would want to quickly know what type of weapon it was, where it came from and who made it. One effect of the explosion is that it would expose many materials to large numbers of neutrons producing a variety of radioactive isotopes. When these isotopes decay, they produce characteristic gamma rays that allow them to be uniquely identified. My project will identify the radioactive species produced by neutron interactions with a wide variety of materials and determine which can provide the most detailed information on the type of weapon that exploded. I plan to conduct a thorough analysis of existing data and draft a report that will describe the gamma-ray signatures in terms of both their energies and time dependences that will provide details on the nature of the device. Through this, I hope to shed light on a sensitive but important topic of post-detonation nuclear forensics.

Message to Sponsor

My SURF experience was definitely a different research experience than I had before. I had the chance to ask my own questions and conduct my own research with the data that I had in hand. My role in most of my past and ongoing projects have had me in the passenger's seat, but SURF has given me the opportunity to drive on my own. I definitely gained more in-depth knowledge on the subject I was researching in and now I have a deeper appreciation for nuclear physics as a field.
  • Major: Astrophysics
  • Sponsor: Anonymous Donor
  • Mentor: Eric Norman