Protecting Borders: Detection of Unknown Nuclear Materials
Jack Pashby has always been interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). So when it came time to select a major, Pashby chose nuclear engineering, a discipline that encompassed several of the STEM branches.
Inspired by a visit to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during one of his classes, Pashby became interested in other national laboratories and decided to apply to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) Summer Internship Program.
The DNDO Summer Internship Program provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate in projects at federal research facilities across the United States. Participants assist in addressing issues related to national security and nuclear detection to help DNDO meet its mission of preventing “nuclear terrorism by continuously improving capabilities to deter, detect, respond to, and attribute attacks, in coordination with domestic and international partners” as well as train future generations of scientists.
With the DNDO Program, Pashby interned at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California. Under the mentorship of Steve Glenn, Ph.D., and Chuck Divin, Ph.D., Pashby assisted in projects aimed to detect and deter the trafficking of nuclear materials. Pashby measured and analyzed the performance of detection systems designed for border crossings.
Pashby researched the effectiveness of detection systems by using engineered cargos that contained (or did not contain) hidden nuclear materials. In a second process, he used X-ray images to analyze the same cargos to determine the composition of the nuclear materials.
Pashby’s efforts contributed to the development of an automated detection algorithm that may be able to use the existing example cargo data to search through new cargo units and uncover any suspicious hidden materials.
During his internship, Pashby had the opportunity to develop new skills, gain programming experience and practice image analysis. He toured LLNL facilities, including the National Ignition Facility, High Performance Computing Innovation Center and the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory. Rating his experience Pashby said, “Five out of five, would totally recommend! The skills I learned here will be applicable to any future computational work.”
Pashby returned to finish his bachelor’s degree at North Carolina State University, and he plans to continue into a master’s program of the same discipline there. Afterwards, he will pursue a doctoral degree or work in the private sector.
The DNDO Summer Internship Program is funded by DNDO and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.