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Week of May 6, 2013

Michigan Memorial Phoenix seed funding projects selected

One of the nation’s oldest organizations dedicated to beneficial use of atomic energy — the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project — has awarded four small grants to a new class of awardees.

These small grants allow researchers to explore interesting, risky “first” questions in lines of inquiry that could lead to unexpected breakthroughs and larger projects. The grants in this year’s round of awards will provide seed funding for work that could lead to less dangerous painkillers, safer nuclear power plants, better energy storage, and safer maintenance of nuclear waste products.

U-M established the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project in 1948 as a way to honor the 579 members of the U-M community who lost their lives in the Second World War.

Seed funding projects are awarded once per year to U-M researchers working in collaborative teams.

The four exploratory projects are listed below.

Attacking pain: Exploring new receptors for painkillers

Peter Scott, radiology

James Woods, pharmacology

Xia Shao, radiology

Though today’s opioid painkillers are effective, many pain relief methods are accompanied by serious side effects, including dependence and reduced efficacy over time. Finding a strong, effective, and non-addictive painkiller requires exploring new receptors- the molecules found on the surface of cells that enable our bodies’ biochemical conversations with drugs. This project will use Positron Emission Technology (PET), a nuclear medical imaging technique, to map the interaction between various promising analgesic test compounds with the receptors that may process our experience of pain.

Making nuclear power plants safer

Yugo Ashida, Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences

Jwo Pan, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Even the materials that nuclear power plants are built with respond to radiation. This project will focus on the development of a predictive model for how radiation-assisted cracks could be controlled in nuclear power plants. Such a model could help to safely extend the life of existing plants and inform planning and materials selection for next-generation ones. The researchers plan to develop the model using Strain Rate Acceleration (SRA)- a technique by which they will be able to see how materials- in this case, stainless steel- change at different length scales before cracking starts.

Activating for a better understanding of energy storage mechanisms

Jason Siegel, mechanical engineering

Levi Thompson, professor of chemical engineering

Supercapacitors are a relatively new type of storage device that combine the fast charge acceptance properties of a capacitor with the higher energy storage capability of a battery. A supercapacitor-based energy storage device could allow drivers to charge their electric vehicle in minutes instead of hours. Early transition metal nitrides are a potential material for use in these devices, but researchers need to understand far more about how and why they work in order use them effectively. A key to understanding their performance is mapping how protons move into these nanostructured materials using neutron activation analysis. This will enable optimization of the materials for higher energy and power density.

Measuring a nuclear material inside a shielded container

Shaun Clarke, nuclear engineering and radiological sciences

Nuclear storage containers are of course designed to keep what’s inside from getting out- which is great until you want to monitor the status of the contents. Though some methods for tracking nuclear material from outside a container exist, more accurate methods are needed. This project aims to design and optimize a new type of system that will be effective for even heavily shielded containers.

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