MSE Seminar: “Before the Boom: Exploiting Emerging Micro (Nano) Scale Characterization Techniques for Pre-Detonation Nuclear Forensics”

Date(s) - 03/05/2024
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Rhines Hall 125



Modern nuclear forensics is a young science, born roughly 30 years ago in response to nuclear security incidents of nuclear materials out of regulatory control in northern Europe following the fall of the former Soviet Union. As with every newly developed scientific discipline, nuclear forensics is experiencing a period of rapidly emerging tools and technologies that have the potential to transform the current state of practice.

One potentially impactful class of techniques is spatially resolved chemical, structural, isotopic and morphological measurements of special nuclear materials. These characterizations at the micro-scale and below offer incredible potential for making forensic linkages between people, places, things and events during an investigation or elucidating material provenance.

This presentation will highlight some emerging nuclear forensic tools and techniques based on measurements at micro- and nano-scale, offer approaches for further exploiting these measurements during a nuclear forensic investigation, and identify challenges that are preventing these types of measurements from becoming standard practice.


Jon Schwantes, Ph.D.

Acting Nuclear Engineering Department Head
Penn State University

Dr. Jon Schwantes is a Professor and Head of the Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering at Penn State University, working in areas related to aqueous environmental radiochemistry, super-heavy element chemistry and physics, astrophysical nucleosynthesis, science-based stockpile stewardship, nuclear material science and nuclear forensics. He has authored or co-authored 122 publications (79 peer-reviewed), was part of the confirmatory team for the discovery of element 111 (subsequently named Roentgenium) and led a team of researchers that identified the oldest known reactor-produced plutonium in the world. He currently serves as the US Co-Chair for the Exercise Task Group of the Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group.

Before joining Penn State faculty in 2022, Dr. Schwantes was a Scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and a member of the Washington State Academy of Science. He served on two DOE response teams to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster, was appointed by the Secretary of Energy to the Technical Assessment Team that investigated the 2014 radioactive contamination of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, and led the forensic examination of a 3,000 Ci radioactive sealed source that had breached at the Harborview Medical Facility in downtown Seattle in 2019.