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Working toward a more secure world | MIT News

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Before arriving on campus, Penina (Nina) Levine knew what she wanted from her undergraduate education:

“I came to live in an environment that would push me beyond my comfortable limits,” says Levine, a senior atomic science and engineering (NSE) official. “I had to find out where my passions are and make my way.”

Today, Levine is well on that path, engaging in a five-year joint undergraduate and master’s program and helping develop technologies for the verification of nuclear materials – to assist in the verification of nuclear weapons or To prevent illegal smuggling of nuclear material. His research is based in the Laboratory for Applied Nuclear Physics, directed by the Associate Professor Aarg Denagoulian.

“I was looking for a research opportunity with tangible applications, and that’s what got me in the lab,” she says. “The work we are doing has clear implications for making the world safe.”

Better detector

Levin focuses on a process called neutron resonance transmission analysis (NRTA), which is used to identify specific types of particular nuclear material. Elements come in different forms, or isotopes, and one way to distinguish isotopes is to bombard them with neutrons.

“Passing through a neutron beam through a target material and finding out what turns out on the other side – what the target does and does not absorb – enables us to analyze and accurately determine isotopic structure,” Levine says.

This highly reliable way to reduce the nature of nuclear material is critical in nuclear security, where verification of weapons treaties may depend on ensuring that a warhead slate for elimination is genuine or fake. A similar technique is useful to determine the state of enrichment of nuclear fuels or to disclose the presence of hidden radioactive material.

But the current NRTA “remains widely inaccessible, as it typically uses high-intensity neutron beams in large, expensive facilities,” Levine. Therefore, Danagoulian’s lab is developing options to make NRTA much smaller and cheaper, she says.

In spring 2020, Levine jumped into his part of the project: a simulation of three different methods to generate neutron beams that met the requirements for a customized version of NRTA. Getting these models right means avoiding costly mistakes at the experimental level.

Due to the epidemic, Levine did his research from a home in Bayford, New Hampshire. “I never got a chance to meet people in my lab and I missed the community aspect,” she says. Nevertheless, he was found to carry his laboratory responsibilities both stimulating and rewarding.

“I have to familiarize myself with all parts of these systems – what kind of energy is required for the neutron beam, and what kind of material is needed to choose as the target,” she says. “It is good and attractive for me to break a problem into small pieces.” Levine will incorporate this research into his mentor’s thesis.

turning points

A series of axis experiences led Levin to his current concentration in nuclear safety. One occurred during MIT’s first year of pre-orientation (FPOP).

“At the NSE FPOP, I heard Professor (R. Scott) Kemp talking about the verification of the war,” she says. “I was interested in nuclear power in high school, but that got me thinking about the safety applications of nuclear.” As a first year, Levine raised 22.04 (social problems of nuclear power) with Kemp. “The class showed how people’s fear of nuclear power created all these limits on regulatory policy,” she says. “But I think the areas where science doesn’t always agree with policy are quite interesting; I want to know why they are tense. “

Levine announced Course 22 but was not convinced about his decision until taking 22.061 (Fusion Energy). “Faculty and students were very optimistic, talking about how fusion could make the world a better place,” Levine recalls. “This class really connected me to the department, and I was sure that it was an area and a community that I could see myself in.”

But after Levin’s internship at Leverns Livermore National Laboratory, his summer years of sophistication proved significant. “I was analyzing the unclassified films of recent atmospheric nuclear tests to find out how radioactive dust and dirt were captured in a rising cloud and where it ended up,” she says. “We wanted to make maps that could help first responders or residents in case of a nuclear attack or explosion.”

Engaging in research with real-world effects affects catalyzed Levine. “Being in the national lab community I was committed to nuclear,” she says. “It made me want to go with my mentor and continue this work.”

For his senior year at MIT, Levin has continued to refine his simulations, while completing research work not just for NSE but for his minor in public policy. “I want to focus on my safety and technology and fit it into a larger social space,” she says.

Levin was quick to dive back into another activity upon his return to campus: additional group co-directing the Amphibious Achievement. This athletic and academic mentorship program for 50 Greater Boston High School students is another casualty of Kovid sanctions, much to Levine’s frustration.

“The Amphibious Achievement was the perfect combination of tuition, mentoring and athletics, which I found very important in my own development as a student, and it is now very difficult, not being able to help in these high schools,” Levin says Huh. MIT version swim team members.

When she finds a moment in her schedule these days, Levine engages in her favorite pastime, creative writing. “Ever since I was very young, I have loved writing, especially in science fiction,” she says. “It is a way of exploring other worlds.” In the past year, she has managed to crank out the first draft of a dystopian novel that genetically explores the social implications of a new species.

But as much as she enjoys finishing fantasies, she has set herself a practical and ambitious goal. When she leaves MIT in 2022, she plans to commission a nuclear submarine with the US Navy as an officer. “I’m not from a military family, but at Lawrence Livermore, I met people with firsthand knowledge of nuclear security applications, and felt that I could provide quiet opportunities that I wouldn’t get anywhere else,” she says. And after her five-year naval commission ends, Levine says she “prefers to work in a state of security or foreign relations, making the world more secure.”

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