Developing technological resources for nuclear disarmament | MIT News

Mentorship has performed a central part in the twists and turns of Associate Professor Areg Danagoulian’s daily life.

As a boy, it led him 1st to arithmetic, exactly where a passionate teacher and mentorship from his mom and dad instilled in him a like for the topic. He then followed in the footsteps of his physicist mother and father and became a physicist himself. In the course of his profession, mentorship has assisted Danagoulian comply with his analysis interests, from primary to applied nuclear physics and then to industry. Extra lately, Danagoulian returned to his alma mater, MIT, where he delights in guiding the learners in his lab as they grow to be mature experts.

Becoming a member of the Institute’s school in 2014 was the most current stage adjust in a occupation whole of shifting investigation interests. In that time Danagoulian, who was awarded tenure very last calendar year, has made new systems for detecting nuclear warhead materials, encrypting their specialized specifics, and verifying their dismantlement.

On the edge of a breakthrough

Danagoulian could not think his eyes. It was the commencing of 2020, and his lab had just completed functioning preliminary experiments with collaborators at Princeton University on a new, portable system for detecting fissionable product that could be employed in nuclear warheads. The prepare had been to collect baseline knowledge and to improve situations from there. But as he seemed at the early success, he discovered a smaller but unmistakable blip particularly wherever 1 would be if the program were being already performing.

“The dip was scarcely obvious, but I realized it wasn’t just my eyes,” Danagoulian says. “We had this suboptimal setup and we already had a weak — but real — sign. That truly motivated us. We received super psyched.”

If the program could do the job with substantial sufficient accuracy, it could remodel nuclear disarmament treaties among superpowers. In the earlier, these types of treaties have targeted the delivery techniques (e.g. missiles and bomber aircraft) of the nuclear weapons instead than the weapons on their own, in portion for the reason that the engineering for verifying nuclear components was not compact or delicate more than enough to be made use of at nuclear internet sites. Danagoulian and his collaborators considered they had been on the precipice of establishing a technology that could adjust that.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic started. Danagoulian’s lab was briefly shut, as was the lab at Princeton.

“We’re hunting at this plot, and we’re considering there is a gold mine ready for us,” Danagoulian says.

After months of examining details and planning additional experiments, Danagoulian’s lab reopened in June of last calendar year with basic safety safeguards in put.

“We were being itching for motion. The instant the doors opened, we ran into the lab,” Danagoulian remembers. “We began gathering data — and this time it was truly large-good quality facts because of to optimized experimental ailments — and quickly all these peaks begun demonstrating up exactly where by they ended up intended to. It was this incredibly rewarding thing, this sense of triumph, to do something that experienced in no way been completed ahead of on such a small scale.”

Due to the fact then, Danagoulian has been performing with nationwide labs as perfectly as associates of the policy local community to increase consciousness of the technologies and study a lot more about how it could be executed.

Danagoulian claims becoming at MIT has even further exposed him to the discipline of public plan, supporting him create impactful technological methods and top to collaborations. He has also designed a related resource for hiding the structure particulars of nuclear warheads during the verification procedure. That system makes use of a physics-centered analog to prevalent digital encryption approaches to scramble info about the weapon’s layout. The system addresses an additional important hurdle to nuclear dismantlement by allowing for the global neighborhood to inspect a country’s nuclear internet sites without the need of jeopardizing navy secrets.

“Verification of nuclear disarmament is very important, since a treaty with no verification is worse than no treaty at all,” Danagoulian states, citing the Comprehensive Examination Ban Treaty that was proposed in the 1950s but not thoroughly adopted right up until 1996, in element simply because researchers lacked the know-how to reliably differentiate underground testing from seismic events.

Supporting other people

Amid the multidisciplinary lifestyle of MIT, Danagoulian made the decision to merge his scientific work with politics. But for his dad and mom, who were both equally physicists underneath the Soviet Union (in modern-working day Armenia), science and social concerns ended up inseparable.

“In Soviet Armenia, becoming in a scientist household made you a cultural minority, and it would inevitably develop into portion of your identity,” Danagoulian claims. “Here it is a occupation, not a social course. But we noticed ourselves as a cultural group or a political class. Later on, the independence motion in Armenia was mainly led by intellectuals and experts.”

Danagoulian’s family moved to the United States when he was 16. His mother and father had hard lives as physicists, and whilst they fostered his really like for the sciences, they also encouraged their son to be a laptop or computer scientist, which they thought would carry far more prosperity and task safety. But Danagoulian experienced found out a appreciate for physics though making ready for college, and he made a decision to overlook their pleas. He went on to important in physics at MIT, where by he acquired the possibility to perform with Professor Richard Milner in the Laboratory of Nuclear Science as section of the Undergraduate Research Options Plan (UROP).

Danagoulian completed his PhD function in nuclear physics at the College of Illinois and became a researcher at the Los Alamos Nationwide Laboratory.  There, he grew to become progressively fascinated in used science and made a decision to join a Boston-dependent organization building a cargo scanner for detecting nuclear components at ports and border crossings close to the globe.

At adequately higher energies, photons can go by means of even dense buildings like steel shipping and delivery containers. Though working in industry, Danagoulian was striving to acquire a process that would send out a beam of photons into containers and scan for the subatomic particles that outcome from collisions with nuclear products.

Danagoulian and collaborators made and commercialized the process, which was deployed in the South Boston Container Terminal for two yrs prior to becoming abandoned for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, mostly due to the fact of its substantial rate tag. Danagoulian believes it was the first these kinds of process deployed in the globe and considers it a key specialized success. He believes it could be deployed rapidly all over again if necessary in a crisis involving nuclear terrorism.

In 2014, Danagoulian returned to MIT to be a part of the faculty of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

This office is incredibly collaborative,” Danagoulian suggests. “Everyone is seeking to support you any way they can. It is a pretty supportive office, and I imagine my results is very considerably associated with the mentorship and assistance I’ve gotten.”

Danagoulian has also embraced his position educating and advising students, whilst he admits he had to study to allow college students manage the study and experiments on their own.

“When I last but not least bought the self-control to allow go, it was really fulfilling, simply because I commenced seeing my students get superior, and I commenced seeing their work getting superior than my individual operate in that specific location. That was deeply gratifying,” Danagoulian states.

These times, Danagoulian is satisfied to be in a situation to give the help and guidance that is performed these kinds of a central purpose in his existence.

“Most of my alternatives in existence, when it comes to education, analysis, perform, have been closely affected by mentorship,” he states. “Mentorship is critically crucial for shaping you, aiding you decide on a way, and encouraging you. I try to assistance students comprehend they are able of performing terrific points.”