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Tonko Heralds 73K in Science Awards to Capital Region

NSF Awards will fund research to investigate Earth’s material properties and defects

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Albany, November 14, 2019 | comments

ALBANY, NY—Congressman Paul D. Tonko announced today that the National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Union College science grants totaling $73,145.00. Both awards fund interdisciplinary research seeking to measure rock and mineral defects to better understand Earth’s geological history. 

“Our Capital Region continues to be a national leader in scientific research and development,” Congressman Tonko said. “Pioneering projects like these create meaningful opportunities for development in research and education by facilitating collaboration across academic disciplines and universities. Congratulations to these researchers for their exceptional work and to the National Science Foundation for their wise support of these visionary programs.”

This collaborative project was awarded to Union College and RPI for research to develop an apparatus to study and determine material properties of the earth and, particularly, to understand their defects. 

  • RPI was awarded a grant totaling $22,189.00. Doctor Daniele Cherniak, a Research Professor for RPI’s Earth and Environmental Sciences Department, is leading the project.
  • Union College received $50,956.00 to fund the research project. The lead investigator is Doctor Heather Watson, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy.

“Our proposed work is in the development of a very high-resolution materials characterization technique called positron annihilation spectroscopy for use on Earth materials,” said Dr. Cherniak. “This technique allows for direct investigation of crystalline solids at an atomic level to characterize the defects in these materials, so we can further our understanding of the atomic-scale physical properties of Earth materials, including metals, oxides, and silicate minerals. Further insight into these nanoscale properties will help us better interpret the processes that have affected the earth through its history. The work will involve interdisciplinary collaborations between nuclear physicists, experts in materials characterization, and geoscientists.  The project will also support undergraduate student research and curriculum development. We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for funding this exciting project.”

“We are developing a technique called positron-annihilation spectroscopy to look at the atomic scale defects or imperfections in the crystal structure of minerals and rocks, particularly after they have been damaged by radiation that can come from radioactive decay over long periods of time,” said Dr. Watson. “This is very important to the geosciences community because it could impact how we use and interpret radioactive “clocks” to measure the ages of certain events in geologic history. These age measurements are similar to carbon dating, but can measure much older ages, close to the age of the Earth (4.6 billion years old). This work may also have important applications in society as it could contribute to our understanding of the atomic scale changes that may happen to nuclear waste containment materials over time as they experience further radiation damage and potential weakening long after the waste has been disposed of. This project will also contribute to the education and research training of several undergraduate students and provide opportunities for interdisciplinary work between Earth sciences, nuclear physics, and materials science.” 

The NSF was established by Congress in 1950 as an independent federal agency and works to develop cutting edge technologies in physics, mathematics, cybersecurity, neuroscience, and STEM education. Currently, NSF is responsible for funding 24 percent of all federally backed research at national colleges and universities.


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