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Department of Chemistry Radiochemistry Group

Research

There are currently several focus areas within the radiochemistry groups which provide a wide range of research opportunities for students to chose from.

Computational

We have a wide variety of interests within the realm of computational and theoretical chemistry, however each has its basis in a fundamental problem associated with either the Chemistry of Materials or the Chemistry of Energy and the Environment.

One priority in the group is bridging quantum mechanical and classical physics descriptions of gas-phase, solution and solid state systems. This involves developing new interatomic potentials that define how atoms interact with one another classically (i.e. there are no electrons). We are currently very interested in systematic ways to fit interatomic potentials using quantum mechanical information, and in understanding why some potentials work and others do not. Applications of this work are currently focused on gas-phase separations, f-elements solution chemistry, and environmentally relevant materials.

A second interest lies in the environmental remediation of f-elements and in separations processes relevant to the nuclear fuel cycle.

Optical properties organic chromophores, transition metal and actinide complexes are a third area of interest, specifically with regard to the rational design of alternative energy sources (like dye-sensitized solar cells).

Regardless of the area of application, students within the group get a strong foundation in quantum chemistry, learn how to use and program electronic structure codes, gain experience in classical molecular dynamics, and are exposed to a broad range of chemical problems that have a significant impact in our day-to-day lives.

Environmental

Students can become involved in the study of the chemistry of plutonium in the environment, the geochemistry of uranium and the rare earth elements, uranium mineralogy, and other areas of environmental radiochemistry. Projects range from analytical method development to determination of thermodynamic or kinetic constants.

Radiopharmecuticals

Radiopharmaceuticals are invaluable to the medical industry because of their high sensitivity, ability to monitor and visualize ongoing biological processes, lack of undesired external chemical or biochemical affects and therapy possibilities.  The ideal radiopharmaceuticals need to have:

  • Nuclear Properties
  • Wide Availability
  • Effective Half life (Radio and biological)
  • High target to non target ratio
  • Simple preparation
  • Biological stability
  • Cost

For prostate cancer, the Benny group is interested in developing targeted radiopharmaceuticals that selectively bind to androgen, unique to the cancerous cells, and then kill only those cells.

Separations

As 21st century human society wrestles with the growing awareness that global warming might constitute a serious threat to the livability of planet earth, the great potential of fission-based nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is returning to the forefront of public thought. However, nuclear power cannot contribute more significantly to solving the problem of global warming without a viable solution of the problems (real and perceived) of nuclear power – waste management, safety, efficiency and security.  Central to finding solutions to these problems is gaining a more complete understanding of the chemistry of the long-lived radioactive materials that are created as byproducts of nuclear fission – actinides and fission products. Our research group focuses its efforts on developing new insights into the chemistry of f-elements (actinides and lanthanides) through investigations of:

Fundamental solution chemistry

  • Understanding solvent-solute interactions
  • Understanding biphasic transfer

Complexation reactions

  • Understanding the kinetics and thermodynamics of chelating agents and redox active species in aqueous and organic solutions.
  • Determining ligand structure and binding
  • Examining cation binding strength
  • Investigating extraction selectivity

Though our primary emphasis is on metal separations reactions, studies of this chemistry have implications beyond that of metal ion separation science. Increased understanding of the energetics of metal ions crossing phase boundaries (in particular, the hydrophilic-hydrophobic interactions that occur in every solvent extraction reaction) can provide important insights for related phenomena in the environment or in living systems. Furthermore, the chemical and nuclear properties of lanthanides and actinides provide a particularly diverse range of options for probing the chemical features of these reactions.