Public Release:  Keck Futures Initiative awards more than $1 million for 13 research projects

National Academy of Sciences

WASHINGTON -- The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative announced today the recipients of 13 grants awarded to support interdisciplinary research projects related to the future of advanced nuclear technologies, which was the subject of the 11th annual Futures conference held last November.

"We received far more high-quality proposals than funds available," said Richard A. Meserve, president, Carnegie Institution for Science. "We scored the grants based on their interdisciplinarity, relevance to the future of advanced nuclear technologies, riskiness/boldness, and the importance and potential impact if the grant is funded. We believe that the group of collaborations selected promise impressive results."

These competitive seed grants aim to fill a critical gap in funding for research on new ideas. Major federal funding programs do not typically provide support in areas that are considered risky or unusual. The Futures grants allow researchers to start recruiting students and postdoctoral fellows, purchasing equipment, and acquiring preliminary data -- all of which can position the researchers to compete for larger awards from other public and private sources.

Listed in alphabetical order -- principal investigators (PIs) first, then co-PIs -- the award recipients and their grant research topics are:

Developing novel materials immune to radiation damage by engineering interfaces at nanometer level in high-energy materials -- $100,000
The goal of this project is to design and create three-D architected nanolaminates with optimized materials and nanoscale thicknesses. It has been found that interfaces, i.e. boundaries between dissimilar materials or atomic structures, can serve as effective sinks for radiation-induced defects. These materials promise to provide an increase in radiation damage tolerance over an order of magnitude.

KATHRYN HIGLEY, Oregon State University
Enhancing safety while fostering innovation: Can the nuclear industry learn from other industries? -- $75,000
New nuclear power designs are capital-intensive and require long lead times for design certification before deployment, which can render incorporation of rapidly advancing technologies problematic. This project will consider systematic approaches to enable incorporation of innovation into both present and future reactor designs.

JOHN HOLZRICHTER, Physical-Insights Associates
PER PETERSON and ELI YABLONOVICH, University of California, Berkeley
Optically coupled nuclear reactor -- $100,000
These researchers propose to design an advanced high-temperature reactor concept, utilizing opto-electric conversion and optical thermal regulation. Progress in materials for use near 1,500 C, efficient low-cost solar cells, new uses for process heat at megawatt levels, together with modern engineering and risk management, enable us to design a conceptual system.

JACOB HOOKER, Harvard Medical School / Massachusetts General Hospital
JULIE STUCLIFFE, University of California, Davis

Pilot program to assess the impact of cross-laboratory training in nuclear medicine -- $50,000
This project will develop a cross-laboratory training program in nuclear medicine. These researchers will define the logistics necessary to create an immersive training program to exchange methodological and conceptual expertise in nuclear medicine sub-specialties. They will then evaluate and report the efficacy of this method in expanding the nuclear specialist workforce.

PETER HOSEMANN, University of California, Berkeley
A revolutionary method to study radiation damage in novel nanostructured alloys -- $75,000
In this work, researchers will create novel 3-D-nanostructured materials via powder metallurgy and cold compacting techniques and evaluate the new alloys for their ability to accommodate radiation damage and He implantation utilizing an unprecedented novel implantation and characterization tool.

JAE KWON, University of Missouri, Columbia
JOHN GAHL, University of Missouri Research Center

Nuclear battery based on transmutation with direct-writing cyclotron -- $100,000
Advanced technologies for integrated nuclear battery on chip will be studied with CMOS-compatible processes. The dimension and capacity of betavoltaics can be made programmable by employing particle beam bombardment, which will induce nuclear transmutations to produce radionuclides within selective areas. Beam optics will enable the controlled activation in microscale.

BRAD MARSTON, Brown University
Understanding high-level nuclear waste with strong electronic correlations -- $75,000
Safe storage and disposal of spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants calls for the ability to model actinide complexes and compounds in the environment. This project will develop an accurate new method to meet this challenge, enabling a predictive understanding of the behavior of high-level nuclear waste.

SHRIRAM RAMANATHAN, Harvard University
JIANZHON WU, University of California, Riverside

Design and fabrication of a supersensitive nuclear "E-nose" -- $100,000
These researchers propose a combined theory-experiment effort to realize ultra-sensitive nuclear e-nose that would detect radiation signatures from nuclear materials. The class of correlated oxide semiconductors interfaced with ionic liquids will be investigated for the first time that can function in radiation environments and sense radiation that can be read remotely.

ALEXANDER SLOCUM, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Extraction of uranium from seawater: Design and testing of a symbiotic system -- $100,000
This project seeks to reduce the cost and environmental impact of nuclear power while improving the stability of the fuel supply. The proposed work will investigate a process in which a uranium extraction plant is paired with an offshore wind power tower to economically and sustainably harvest uranium from seawater.

KUMAR SRIDHARAN, University of Wisconsin, Madison
JEREMY BUSBY, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Cold spray fabrication of oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) steel fuel claddings -- $75,000
This project will investigate fabrication of fuel claddings of radiation-resistant oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) steel using cold spray materials deposition process. Uniformity of the oxide nanoparticle dispersions and other radiation-tolerant nanostructures evolving from high strain rate deposition and subsequent thermal treatments will be evaluated using high resolution imaging techniques.

NEAL STEWART and SCOTT LENAGHAN, University of Tennessee
"Fukusensor": A transgenic plant for reporting DNA damage from radiation -- $50,000
A series of designer DNA-damage reporting plants, "Fukusensors" have been developed. These plants will be characterized and then tested for sensitivity to a range of gamma radiation. A smart-phone based characterization system will be developed that would be a key component of a subsequently developed unmanned sensor system.

YUAN-CHUAN TAI, Washington University, St. Louis
CHRISTOPHER TOPP, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Improving crop yield and sustainability through advanced nuclear imaging technology -- $75,000
This project will apply advanced nuclear imaging technology to develop new research tools that will enable plant scientists to study the development of roots and resource allocation by plants in order to accelerate the breeding of next generation food crops that will adapt to the environment under global climate change.

WOLFGANG WEBER, Sloan-Kettering Insitute for Cancer Research
MARKUS SCHWAIGER, Technische Universität Müchen

Definition of a new paradigm for the validation and dissemination of radiopharmaceuticals: Unmet clinical needs and opportunities for nuclear theranostics in patients with prostate cancer -- $50,000
Novel radiopharmaceuticals hold enormous promise for imaging and therapy of cancer, but enter very slowly into clinical practice. This workshop aims to define a new paradigm for the validation and clinical dissemination of radiopharmaceuticals in prostate cancer, one of the most prevalent malignant diseases in industrialized countries.

A summary of the conference, "The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies," will be available online in early June at


Established through a $40 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation in 2003, the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative is a 15-year effort to enhance communication among researchers, funding agencies, universities, and the general public -- with the objective of stimulating interdisciplinary research at the most exciting frontiers. The National Academies and the W.M. Keck Foundation believe considerable scientific progress and social benefit will be achieved by providing a counterbalance to the tendency to isolate research within academic fields. The Futures Initiative is designed to enable researchers from different disciplines to focus on new questions and entirely new research, and to encourage better communication among scientists as well as between the scientific community and the public. For more information about NAKFI, please visit For more information about the W.M. Keck Foundation, please visit


Molly Galvin, Senior Media Officer, Office of News and Public Information

Kimberly Suda-Blake, Senior Program Director, National Academies Keck Futures Initiative

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