Building a nuclear physics accelerator at Notre Dame

Published: Dec. 12, 2016 at 12:44 AM EST
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Nuclear physics students at Norte Dame will soon get the chance to use a machine that will search for environmental toxins.

It’s called an accelerator and it will be the third one to be installed on campus. The machine can measure almost all of the elements on the periodic table.

Students will be able to test materials for Perfluorinated Alkyl Substances, otherwise known as PFAS’s.

They’re used for fire-fighting foam, on clothing for stain and water resistance and on the inside of things like popcorn bags to keep the oil inside of them. Unfortunately, this chemical has turned out to be slightly toxic.

Right now the machine is still in its early construction phase. Beam lines, magnets, detectors and controls still need to be installed in order to make it an Ion Beam Analysis Facility.

Notre Dame currently works with the Army and Navy to test fire-fighting foam that they use to put out jet fires. The foam has contaminated bodies of water, so the chemical hasn’t left the environment, so they’re trying to figure out the best way to clean it up.

“So we’re proposing to go in and measure all the different technologies and see if we can get to the best technology for cleaning up this type of chemical,” said Graham Peaslee, Notre Dame professor of physics.

Peaslee was hired to build the new accelerator.

The university has been testing the chemical at other facilities, but it will be much more efficient once the lab is complete at Notre Dame.

“Ours has very little preparation and can run two to three minutes a piece, so we can take the analysis time down by a factor of ten to 100, which reduces our cost by a factor of ten to 100,” Peaslee said.

There are 60 accelerators around the world, about 12 in the United States and six that are capable of making these measurements of PFAS’s.

The accelerator is slated to be complete by the summer 2017 semester. It will be called St. Andre Tandem Accelerator at Notre Dame for Applied Research and Development, or STANDARD.