NSE Graduate Student Steven Czyz accepts his best talk certificate at the CVT Workshop.
Friday, November 30, 2018

NSE grad student Steven Czyz (left) accepts his best talk certificate from CVT Director Sara Pozzi (center) at the CVT Workshop. Photo via CVT.

You know what’s a nice reward after countless hours in the lab running simulations, tweaking designs, and poring over results? Happy hours and late-night specials at the eateries, watering holes, and hideaways on Monroe Avenue have plenty of options. Even better: national recognition that your work sets the standard for excellence.

For a couple of graduate students in the College of Engineering’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) that was on tap at the annual Consortium for Verification Technology (CVT) Workshop. Steven Czyz and Harish Gadey, both pursuing doctorates in nuclear engineering, were honored for best talk and best poster respectively.

The CVT is made up of 12 universities and nine national laboratories that work together in developing new technologies for nuclear treaty verification. It’s not enough to suspect that someone is violating international agreements like the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) — you have to be able to prove it. Technology developed by the CVT helps do just that.

Oregon State’s role in the CVT, under the umbrella of Professor Abi Farsoni and his Radiation Detection Group, is focused on the fourth of the CVT’s six numbered “thrust areas,” Detection of Undeclared Activities and Inaccessible Facilities. As members of this group, Czyz and Gadey are both researching and developing new radioxenon detectors.

Radioxenon detectors are instrumental in providing evidence that an underground nuclear weapons test has taken place. This scenario is not as unlikely as you’d hope — North Korea detonated nuclear weapons underground at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site as recently as September 2017. The work at Oregon State focuses on using new materials and designs for radioxenon detectors, because current detectors used in international monitoring efforts are very expensive.

“There are increasing demands for low-cost and high-performance radioxenon detectors to be installed in the International Monitoring System around the world for monitoring nuclear weapon tests,” Farsoni said. “The current radioxenon detectors cost more than $500,000. Our radioxenon detectors, developed at the Oregon State, could reduce the cost to 10 percent of that.”

NSE grad student Harish Gadey (center) talks to Oregon State alumnus Eric Becker at the CVT workshop.

NSE grad student Harish Gadey (center) talks to Oregon State alumnus Eric Becker ('16 Ph.D., Radiation Health Physics) at the CVT workshop. Photo via CVT.

Gadey’s poster presentation detailed his results from testing one of these new systems.

“The characterization of these detection systems is important,” Gadey said. ”If there is a need to switch technologies, we have data and results from prototype designs that groups like ours are working on,” Gadey said.

Czyz’s talk overviewed the latest three of five total radioxenon detector prototypes built at Oregon State, including Gadey’s design. All prototypes use novel materials and methods.

“Research and development is expensive, and so — as opposed to trying new approaches — all too often engineers will use old and potentially archaic technologies and methods simply because they've proven effective in the past,” Czyz said. “This work is all about trying new things. I hope that what we're working on helps open doors for engineers to build systems in the future that use the most cutting-edge approaches and state-of-the-art technologies.”

To learn more about Czyz and Gadey’s work, the CVT, and nuclear nonproliferation efforts in general, listen to the “Engineering Out Loud” podcast episodes “Partnering for Nuclear Nonproliferation” and “Enforcing the CTBT with CZT.”

—      Jens Odegaard