Texas A&M Leads $ 2 Million Training Effort for DOE’s National Isotope Program

The program will expand and diversify the next generation isotope science workforce by promoting innovative and transformative approaches to isotope production and processing as well as student recruitment and preparation.

Texas A&M College of Science

The Texas A&M University-led consortium received a two-year, $ 2 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a one-of-a-kind internship program in research and development, production and Isotope Processing which aims to develop the future isotope production workforce for the nation and the isotope program of the DOE (IP).

Texas A&M will serve as the isotope internship coordination site (ITC) in collaboration with a team of 17 institutions – 14 higher education institutions (including eight institutions serving minorities) and three national DOE laboratories (Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory).

This unprecedented investment represents a concerted effort to increase exposure to the field of isotope science and accelerate the time it typically takes for a young scientist to enter the workforce. Every day, these vital people and positions make untold contributions to the prosperity and security of the country in support of the intellectual property activities of the DOE, including the production of critical isotopes in short supply with wide applications in medicine, national security, national and global industry and discovery research.

“The DOE Isotope Program supports new isotope production and processing activities at a series of world-class facilities at the Federal Complex and at universities,” said DOE Isotope Program Director , Jehanne Gillo. “To ensure a strong and innovative program in the future, it is essential to develop a large and diverse workforce. “

Texas A&M Regents professor of chemistry and director of the Cyclotron Institute, Sherry J. Yennello, is the principal investigator and director of the new ITC collaboration, known as the Horizon-broadening Isotope Production Pipeline Opportunities (HIPPO) program, which includes 17 co-principal investigators. HIPPO will expand and diversify the next generation workforce by promoting innovative and transformative approaches to isotope production and processing as well as student recruitment and preparation.

“The production of key radioisotopes is important to our country’s medical, industrial and scientific infrastructure,” said Yennello, who also heads the Texas A&M Nuclear Solutions Institute and the DOE / National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Center for Excellence in Nuclear Training And University -Based Research (CENTAUR). “Well-trained and experienced scientists are needed to produce high quality isotopes. Exceptional workforce development and excellent research form a natural match. It is imperative to recruit widely and educate effectively to ensure the continued availability of important isotopes. “

The HIPPO team plans to recruit a diverse population of approximately 20 undergraduates and 10 graduate students currently enrolled at participating institutions. The aim is to expose students to a wide range of activities related to isotope production while focusing on specific research projects on isotope production that can be contextualized to the trainees’ own research careers. through collaborative networking and a variety of in-person and virtual training mechanisms at national level laboratory and university isotope network production sites involving both HIPPO and peer mentors.

In addition to their regular research activities, graduate students will make week-long visits to national laboratories and university isotope array production sites, followed by one or more weeks at another HIPPO campus other than the their. Likewise, undergraduates will spend a week in a national lab to learn about isotope production, and then an additional week or more at a HIPPO campus to do related research.

“Unfortunately, neither nuclear science nor isotope science are standard components of undergraduate STEM education, severely limiting the number of potential students who could pursue education, training, and a career in manufacturing. of isotopes, ”Yennello said. “To help broaden the career paths of highly qualified students and researchers, the HIPPO program will recruit from our member institutions and affiliated institutions serving minorities to build a diverse cohort of students interested in exploring their potential career opportunities. Allowing them to earn money doing science as undergraduates will relieve financial stress while demonstrating the fact that they could make a living doing nuclear science research related to the production of isotopes.

Beyond developing a pipeline for doctoral-level scientists to contribute to future research efforts on isotope production, Ynnello says HIPPO will also be essential in attracting students to provide opportunities at the undergraduate level. and mastery. Qualified and competent technicians with training in chemistry, physics and engineering are in great demand to fill operator positions on accelerator and reactor production sites, to carry out production, processing and control functions. isotope quality, and to perform maintenance on complex equipment required for delivery to DOE IP missions.

“Students of many universities, especially institutions without strong nuclear science programs, may not even realize that their more traditional science education can be successfully applied to a career in isotope production and processing,” Yennello said. “By exposing students to research and production facilities, the door will be opened for them to apply their expertise to a variety of functions essential for isotope production and areas of research.”

In addition to Texas A&M, participating higher education institutions include Hunter College and Lehman College at the City University of New York, San José State University, Stony Brook University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Notre Dame, University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as affiliated institutions serving minorities, Dillard University, Texas A&M University Higher Education Center at McAllen, Texas Lutheran University, University of Texas at El Paso, and Virginia State University.

“Each of the major institutions are currently conducting research related to isotope production and have experience in training excellent undergraduate and / or graduate students in science relevant to the isotopes program at DOE.” , Yennello said. “A formal partnership in this isotope internship will provide isotope production students at all major and affiliated institutions with educational and research opportunities and will result in well-trained and well-trained scientists ready to contribute to production. of the country’s isotopes. “

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