Melissa Fairley (LaVerne Group)

Radiation Effects of Solid Uranyl Peroxides

October 16, 2019

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Melissa Fairley is a postdoctoral researcher working with Prof. Jay LaVerne in the Radiation Laboratory. She presented "Radiation Effects of Solid Uranyl Peroxides" at the ND Energy PD&GS Luncheon in October 2019.

Fairley came to Notre Dame in the fall of 2018 to work in the Actinide Center of Excellence (ACE). Led by ND Energy Director Peter Burns, ACE is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Research conducted at the center integrates both experimental and computational approaches to analyze radioactive materials. In addition to Burns and LaVerne, ND Energy affiliated faculty member Amy Hixon is also among the team of researchers in ACE.

“Actinides themselves are radioactive.  In addition to self-radiolysis, applications in nuclear energy have harsh radiation fields,” Fairley said. “My research is looking at how uranyl peroxide materials are affected by intense radiation fields.”

Studtite, a uranyl peroxide mineral, has been found on stored fuel rods and uranyl peroxide cages have potential applications in the nuclear fuel cycle specifically with separation of uranium. By characterizing these materials before and after exposure to intense radiation, Fairley can observe if the materials break down, form new compounds, or if they remain stable and could potentially be used in these separation systems.

Fairley is a frequent user of ND Energy’s Materials Characterization Facility (MCF), for which she lauded both the staff and instrumentation. Fairley has been able to take advantage of the facility’s crystallography capabilities with the Powder XRD and conduct surface analysis with the XPS. She has also used the UV-Vis to study color changes due to irradiation.

“The instrumentation is phenomenal,” Fairley said. “There are so many instruments; if you’re wondering about something, you can do it there.”

The facilities in the Radiation Laboratory and the Nuclear Science Laboratory (NSL) have also been useful for Fairley’s research. Located in the Department of Physics, NSL houses the accelerator that Fairley uses to simulate alpha particles for irradiation.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa, Fairley worked on synthesizing actinide nanoclusters. She later earned her Ph.D. at the University of Arizona with a focus on lanthanide clusters and metal-organic frameworks. The research done at Notre Dame through ACE provided an opportunity for Fairley to get back into the field of actinide chemistry.

“This project took something I was already interested in and expanded it,” Fairley said. “It’s important to understand how these materials are affected by radiation for applications in stockpile stewardship and nuclear energy.”

Fairley expects to be on campus for the next two to three years before moving on to a position in academia or a national laboratory.

Outside of the lab, Fairley has volunteered with ND Energy for outreach activities, including the annual Art 2 Science Summer Camp, as well as serving as a mentor with Advancing Women Leaders (AWL).