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Simonetti "What Would You Fight For?" Feature Will Re-Air During Shamrock Series

Allison Preston • DATE: November 9, 2018


Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences (CEEES) Professor Antonio Simonetti will be featured on the University of Notre Dame’s “What Would You Fight For?” series, highlighting his nuclear forensic research for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The feature previously aired during the 2017-2018 football season. 

Simonetti aims to develop time-sensitive and unique methods to determine the chemical and isotopic makeup of uranium-rich nuclear materials, primarily uraninite. The uranium-rich natural mineral is the primary ingredient used to make uranium oxide concentrate (UOC), or "yellow cake." It then becomes one of the primary materials used to make "dirty bombs," or a bomb that combines explosives with radioactive materials. 

Simonetti was awarded a $1.75 million grant by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in an effort to develop counter-terrorism methods through the detection of illicit materials. He, along with CEEES colleagues Peter Burns and Amy Hixon, have developed a database of chemical and isotopic signatures for uraninites and UOCs from worldwide sources through the grant. 

"We can act as a deterrent to let criminals know if you get a hold of some uranium oxide powder, we can analyze it and see where it is coming from based on its chemical and isotopic signatures," says Simonetti. 

In other words, if a dirty bomb were detonated of confiscated, Simonetti and other nuclear forensic scientists can determine what country or region the nuclear material was extracted from. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will then have a better idea of where these bombs are being developed. 

“That is the scientific goal of the project,” says Simonetti. “The other goal is to train the next generation of nuclear forensic scientists.”

Notre Dame Naval ROTC member and senior Maloney Foster is one of the emerging nuclear forensic leaders who will also be featured in this week’s “What Would You Fight For?” video. After graduation, Foster will continue working in the nuclear field in the Navy.

The Notre Dame vs. Syracuse game, part of the University of Notre Dame Shamrock Series, begins at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 17. 

The CEEES Department will be leading a presentation in the Shamrock Series titled, "In, Around, and Under New York City." The presentation will discuss the challenges of today's aging infrastructure and outline the annual behind-the-scenes infrastructure field trip. All are welcome to attend the seminar on Friday, November 16 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers (811 7th Ave.).