Rebecca Carter (Hixon Group)

Rare Earth Element Interactions with Uranium Oxides

April 17, 2019

Rebecca Carter

Rebecca Carter, a fourth-year graduate student, is advised by Prof. Amy Hixon, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences. She presented “Rare Earth Element Interactions with Uranium Oxides” at the ND Energy PD&GS Luncheon in April 2019.

Carter’s research is in the field of nuclear forensics, examining the safety and security of nuclear materials outside of regulated control.

“Characterization of materials is important in understanding their physical and chemical properties and developing their forensic signatures,” Carter said. These signatures can be used to trace unidentified nuclear materials back to their origins.

As an undergraduate student at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Carter studied environmental science. She cites a passion for addressing the environmental challenges posed by nuclear materials as her motivation for entering this field of research.

“We need to make sure we are cleaning up what we have left behind, and moving forward, we need to be responsible for what we’re producing,” Carter said. “If we can learn about how we can take care of that better, we can have safe and secure nuclear power.”

Her environmental science background pairs well with the environmental radiochemistry done in the Hixon lab. Much of Hixon’s research focuses on how actinides interact with the subsurface, in hopes of understanding and predicting their mobility.

“This would help us model for a potential geological repository, or the endpoint in which we’d hope to store nuclear fuel,” Carter said.

In addition to working in the Hixon lab, Carter has collaborated with another ND Energy faculty member, Prof. Antonio Simonetti, utilizing instruments at the Midwest Isotope and Trace Element Research Analytical Center (MITERAC).  Specifically, she uses the Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS), which allows her to look at the low concentrations of rare earth elements. 

She also uses the Powder XRD and XPS housed in the Materials Characterization Facility (MCF).

“The fact that we can do anything in house is pretty awesome,” Carter said, praising the capabilities and facilities available on campus for materials characterization and nuclear research.

Carter believes it is important to communicate how this high level of nuclear research is done safely to combat the stigma associated with nuclear materials. As part of the Hixon group’s outreach efforts, Carter mentors a high school student through ND Energy’s Mishawaka High School internship program.

For her future plans, Carter had the opportunity to complete several internships at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and hopes to become a researcher at a national lab after she earns her Ph.D.