Rutgers professor Ashutosh Goel invents way to contain radioactive iodine
How do you handle nuclear waste that will be radioactive for millions of years, keeping it from harming people and the environment?
It isn’t easy, but Rutgers researcher Ashutosh Goel has discovered ways to immobilize such waste – the offshoot of decades of nuclear weapons production – in glass and ceramics.
Goel, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is the primary inventor of a new method to immobilize radioactive iodine in ceramics at room temperature. He’s also the principal investigator (PI) or co-PI for six glass-related research projects totaling $6.34 million in federal and private funding, with $3.335 million going to Rutgers.
“Glass is a perfect material for immobilizing the radioactive wastes with excellent chemical durability,” said Goel, who works in the School of Engineering. Developing ways to immobilize iodine-129, which is especially troublesome, is crucial for its safe storage and disposal in underground geological formations.
The half-life of iodine-129 is 15.7 million years, and it can disperse rapidly in air and water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If it’s released into the environment, iodine will linger for millions of years. Iodine targets the thyroid gland and can increase the chances of getting cancer.
Among Goel’s major funders is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees one of the world’s largest nuclear cleanups following 45 years of producing nuclear weapons. The national weapons complex once had 16 major facilities that covered vast swaths of Idaho, Nevada, South Carolina, Tennessee and Washington state, according to the DOE.
The agency says the Hanford site in southeastern Washington, which manufactured more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear reactors near the Columbia River, is its biggest cleanup challenge.
Hanford plants processed 110,000 tons of fuel from the reactors. Some 56 million gallons of radioactive waste – enough to fill more than 1 million bathtubs – went to 177 large underground tanks. As many as 67 tanks – more than one third – are thought to have leaked, the DOE says. The liquids have been pumped out of the 67 tanks, leaving mostly dried solids.
The Hanford cleanup mission commenced in 1989, and construction of a waste treatment plant for the liquid radioactive waste in tanks was launched a decade later and is more than three-fifths finished.
“What we’re talking about here is highly complex, multicomponent radioactive waste which contains almost everything in the periodic table,” Goel said. “What we’re focusing on is underground and has to be immobilized.”
Goel, a native of Punjab state in northern India, earned a doctorate in glasses and glass-ceramics from the University of Aveiro in Portugal in 2009 and was a postdoctoral researcher there. He worked as a “glass scientist” at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 2011 and 2012, and then as a senior scientist at Sterlite Technologies Ltd. in India before joining the Rutgers faculty in January 2014.
The six projects he’s leading or co-leading are funded by the DOE Office of River Protection, National Science Foundation and Corning Inc., with collaborators from Washington State University, University of North Texas and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
One of his inventions involves mass producing chemically durable apatite minerals, or glasses, to immobilize iodine without using high temperatures. A second innovation deploys synthesizing apatite minerals from silver iodide particles. He’s also studying how to immobilize sodium and alumina in high-level radioactive waste in borosilicate glasses that resist crystallization.
At the Hanford site, creating glass with radioactive waste is expected to start in around 2022 or 2023, Goel said, and “the implications of our research will be much more visible by that time.”
“It depends on its composition, how complex it is and what it contains,” Goel said. “If we know the chemical composition of the nuclear waste coming out from those plants, we can definitely work on it.”
Rutgers experts discover easy way to make graphene for flexible and printable electronics, energy storage, and catalysis
Rutgers University engineers have found a simple method for producing high-quality graphene that can be used in next-generation electronic and energy devices: bake the compound in a microwave oven.
The discovery is documented in a study published online today in the journal Science.
“This is a major advance in the graphene field,” said Manish Chhowalla, professor and associate chair in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Rutgers’ School of Engineering. “This simple microwave treatment leads to exceptionally high quality graphene with properties approaching those in pristine graphene.”
The discovery was made by post-doctoral associates and undergraduate students in the department, said Chhowalla, who is also the director of the Rutgers Institute for Advanced Materials, Devices and Nanotechnology. Having undergraduates as co-authors of a Science paper is rare but he said “the Rutgers Materials Science and Engineering Department and the School of Engineering at Rutgers cultivate a culture of curiosity driven research in students with fresh ideas who are not afraid to try something new.”
Graphene – 100 times tougher than steel – conducts electricity better than copper and rapidly dissipates heat, making it useful for many applications. Large-scale production of graphene is necessary for applications such as printable electronics, electrodes for batteries and catalysts for fuel cells.
Graphene comes from graphite, a carbon-based material used by generations of students and teachers in the form of pencils. Graphite consists of sheets or layers of graphene.
The easiest way to make large quantities of graphene is to exfoliate graphite into individual graphene sheets by using chemicals. The downside of this approach is that side reactions occur with oxygen – forming graphene oxide that is electrically non-conducting, which makes it less useful for products.
Removing oxygen from graphene oxide to obtain high-quality graphene has been a major challenge over the past two decades for the scientific community working on graphene. Oxygen distorts the pristine atomic structure of graphene and degrades its properties.
Chhowalla and his group members found that baking the exfoliated graphene oxide for just one second in a 1,000-watt microwave oven, like those used in households across America, can eliminate virtually all of the oxygen from graphene oxide.
Rutgers and Stanford scientists develop novel way to inject healthy human nerve cells into the brain
The scaffolds, loaded with healthy, beneficial neurons that can replace diseased cells, were injected into mouse brains. Neurons, or nerve cells, are critical for human health and functioning. Human brains have about 100 billion neurons, which serve as messengers that transmit signals from the body to the brain and vice versa.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, /ˈrʌtɡərz/, commonly referred to as Rutgers University, Rutgers, or RU, is an American public research university and the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey in the United States.
Originally chartered as Queen’s College on 10 November 1766, Rutgers is the eighth-oldest college in the United States and one of the nine “Colonial Colleges” founded before the American Revolution. The college was renamed Rutgers College in 1825 in honour of Colonel Henry Rutgers (1745–1830), a New York City landowner, philanthropist and former military officer, whose generous donation to the school allowed it reopen after years of financial difficulty.
For most of its existence, Rutgers was a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church and admitted only male students. The college expanded its role in research and instruction in agriculture, engineering, and science when it was named as the state’s sole land-grant college in 1864 under the Morrill Act of 1862. It gained university status in 1924 with the introduction of graduate education and further expansion. However, Rutgers evolved into a coeducational public research university after being designated “The State University of New Jersey” by the New Jersey Legislature in laws enacted in 1945 and 1956. It is one of only two colonial colleges that later became public universities.
Rutgers has four campuses that enrolls approximately 65,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. The university’s four campuses offer instruction by distinguished faculty in 175 academic departments and Rutgers is widely regarded as one of the top public university systems in the world. The university is spread out across the City of New Brunswick and Piscataway Township, with campuses in Newark and Camden. The Newark campus was formerly the University of Newark, which merged into the Rutgers system in 1946. The Camden campus was created in 1950 after Rutgers acquired two institutions: the College of South Jersey and the South Jersey Law School.
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Tiny worms could be key to solving Type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune ailments There is a new weapon in the fight against autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and lupus, the common trait of which is an immune system that attacks its own organs and tissues.
“What we would like to do now is harness components of the type 2 immune response to target the control of harmful inflammation that can lead to autoimmune diseases like diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease,” Gause says.
“Finding new ways to stimulate these regulatory components of the type 2 immune response may provide us with a new set of tools to target the control of harmful inflammatory responses now associated with this wide array of different diseases.” For now, live helminths or helminth byproducts may be introduced into the body on a short-term basis to train compromised immune systems.