Public Release: 

NNSA awards $10 million center grant to Texas A&M-led consortium

Texas A&M University


IMAGE: The Texas A&M Cyclotron Institute, one of five U.S. Department of Energy-designated Centers of Excellence and home to one of only five K500 or larger superconducting cyclotrons worldwide, is dedicated... view more 

Credit: Texas A&M University

A Texas A&M University-led consortium has been awarded a five-year, $10 million Stewardship Science Academic Alliances (SSAA) Center of Excellence program grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) to establish and implement the Center for Excellence in Nuclear Training And University-based Research (CENTAUR).

CENTAUR's mission is to provide research experience necessary to develop next-generation leaders in stewardship science in the area of low-energy nuclear science to support workforce and research needs relevant to the NNSA mission.

Texas A&M Regents Professor of Chemistry and Cyclotron Institute Director Dr. Sherry J. Yennello serves as the principal investigator for CENTAUR, which will pursue basic research in low-energy nuclear science through experimental, theoretical and technical programs using accelerators at the Texas A&M Cyclotron Institute and Florida State University's John D. Fox Superconducting Linear Accelerator Laboratory as well as facilities at the other participating institutions. Existing collaborations between scientists at Texas A&M and the NNSA national laboratories -- specifically, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory -- will be incorporated into center programs and expanded to involve scientists from all partner institutions, which include Florida State, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Washington, Louisiana State University and the University of Notre Dame.

"These grants ensure a pipeline of the next generation of scientists in areas of relevance to the stockpile stewardship mission," said Dr. Kathleen Alexander, Assistant Deputy Administrator for Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation in NNSA's Office of Defense Programs.

Launched in 2002, the SSAA program supports areas of fundamental research and development that are relevant to NNSA's stockpile stewardship mission and works to recruit the next generation of highly-trained technical scientists and engineers for the nuclear security enterprise.

Roughly two dozen scientists across all partner universities will be involved in CENTAUR, along with their affiliated research groups. One of the center's major contributions will be research and development expertise related to neutron detectors, which are relevant for both low-energy nuclear science and nuclear security applications. CENTAUR is equally committed to building upon the consortium's collective tradition of service as an invaluable technical resource and fertile training ground for the nation's nuclear workforce and future stewardship science leaders.

"The facilities of the Cyclotron Institute and all partners will be available for research and training of all CENTAUR participants -- graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, academic partners and national laboratories personnel who are collaborating with center-affiliated faculty," Yennello said. "The nation needs a nuclear workforce, and CENTAUR is well-positioned by design to play a role in helping to build it, based on its collective resources and shared expertise at all critical levels of the process."

Past Proves Prologue

This past fall, the Cyclotron Institute celebrated 50 years of beam and a rich history of exploring the nuclear frontier. The institute is jointly supported by the DOE Office of Science for Nuclear Physics (DOE NP), the state of Texas and the Houston-based Welch Foundation. Within the DOE NP program, which is the federal steward of basic research in nuclear physics, the Cyclotron Institute is one of five university Centers of Excellence supported to advance basic research in nuclear physics. The institute is home to one of only five K500 or larger superconducting cyclotrons worldwide as well as a second K150 cyclotron and a vast array of experimental devices. It provides the primary infrastructure support for Texas A&M's graduate programs in nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry while conducting basic research and educating students in accelerator-based science and technology. In addition, the institute serves as a technical support base for collaborative research programs at other major national and international accelerator facilities.

"The decision 50 years ago to build a cyclotron at Texas A&M has proven nothing short of revolutionary, then and now," Yennello said. "That bold move, in combination with the continuous support in the five decades since from federal, state, university and private sources has enabled us to serve our state, nation and world through a unique combination of discovery science, workforce development and societal service through applications. It's a proud legacy fueled by the longtime support of the DOE Office of Science that we are pleased to see enhanced through CENTAUR."

Since 2011, the Cyclotron Institute and Livermore Lab have been involved in a surrogate reactions program featuring two ongoing experimental setups installed and commissioned within the institute. The first, NeutronSTARS, allows the direct detection of charged particles and neutrons from charged-particle-induced nuclear reactions. The second, the $4 million Hyperion charged-particle array, is capable of detecting gamma rays and currently ranks as the largest gamma ray detector array in the NNSA arsenal. Additional Cyclotron Institute researchers have collaborations with scientists at Los Alamos Lab that will benefit from closer connections through CENTAUR.

Partners in Nuclear Progress

Like the Cyclotron Institute, Florida State's Fox Accelerator Laboratory led by Dr. Ingo Wiedenhoever brings an established reputation as a national leader in cutting-edge nuclear scientific research and education dating back more than 50 years. The National Science Foundation-funded facility houses a 9 MV Tandem Van de Graaf accelerator and an 8 MV linear accelerator along with a full complement of experimental equipment, including a recently installed Super-Enge Split-Pole Spectrograph. When paired with the expertise of Dr. Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt's radiochemistry group, it creates an opportunity to build an experimental program focusing on spectroscopy of astrophysical resonances and nuclear structure at the binding limit of stable nuclei.

Washington University's Dr. Lee Sobotka, a renowned expert in nuclear reaction mechanisms and development of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips for low energy nuclear science experiments, will play a key role in CENTAUR's neutron detector development activities while also leading the effort on total reaction cross-sections of rare but stable nuclei.

Dr. Scott Marley and other LSU scientists already have collaborative ties to Florida State and, through CENTAUR, will build additional ones with Texas A&M scientists to perform neutron and proton transfer reactions for the purpose of identifying key nuclear structure information.

As a past collaborator in the Texas A&M-Livermore Lab Hyperion experiments, Notre Dame's Dr. Anna Simon will direct CENTAUR efforts to carry out measurements to obtain cross-sections and structure data relevant to national security and energy needs and for basic science. During the past six years, the Hyperion collaboration -- which also includes scientists from Rutgers University, the University of Richmond and Oak Ridge National Laboratory -- has logged more than 2,000 hours of beam-time benefitting countless projects, researchers and students.

The University of Washington is home to the Institute for Nuclear Theory -- another DOE NP university Center of Excellence -- where scientists such as Dr. Aurel Bulgac have expertise in high performance computing applications of density functional theory with specific emphasis on nuclear superfluid properties.

"The faculty, staff and students associated with CENTAUR are at the top of their respective fields," Yennello said. "This is definitely a case in which the whole is most certainly greater than the sum of its parts."

Accelerated Education and Outreach

In addition to exposure to and experience with a wide variety of state-of-the-art equipment and techniques through the partner universities, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at each participating institution will have the unique opportunity to collaborate with scientists at CENTAUR-associated national laboratories, including Livermore Lab, Los Alamos Lab, Oak Ridge Lab and others.

"These students and postdoctoral fellows will not simply be experts on one technology, they will be able to evaluate competing strategies for approaching experimental and theoretical nuclear science problems," Yennello added. "Many will have collaborated with staff and/or interned at Livermore Lab or Los Alamos Lab, giving them firsthand knowledge of and experience with the breadth of rewarding careers available to them as part of the NNSA workforce."

CENTAUR also will sponsor high school outreach and recruitment activities along with secondary school teacher professional development initiatives, to be spearheaded by Florida State. Planned programs include a nuclear science summer camp for high school students, to be developed with and taught by Bay District science teachers.

To learn more about CENTAUR, from sponsored programs to available graduate student and postdoctoral funding, visit the center's webpage at or contact Sherry Yennello at (979) 845-1411.

About the NNSA: Established by Congress in 2000, the NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. The NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing; works to reduce the global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad. Visit for more information.


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