The work of Dr. Mark Yuly, professor of physics and associate dean for natural sciences and mathematics at Houghton College, was recently featured in Physical Review C, the premier physics journal in the United States. Alumni Thomas Eckert ’16 and Garret Hartshaw ’14 were also co-authors.
The paper, titled “12C(n, 2n) 11C cross section from threshold to 26.5 MeV,” is the culmination of five years of research: two summers were carried out at Ohio University’s Edwards Accelerator Lab, while three years of research took place at Houghton. Faculty and students from both Houghton and the State University of New York at Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo) participated in the project, which began in 2010. During the course of the experiment, Houghton students Andrew Evans ‘13, August Gula ’16, Ian Love ’14, Keith Mann ’13, Tyler Reynolds ’13, and Laurel Vincett ’16 also contributed.
The experiment, funded by the Department of Energy through the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Rochester, was led by Yuly and addressed inertial confinement fusion (ICF). In ICF, high-powered lasers deposit a large amount of energy into a small pellet of nuclear fuel, which causes a fusion reaction. In order to study the fusion reaction, a system has been developed using neutron activation of carbon. During this process, samples of purified graphite are placed at different locations around the ICF target chamber. Here they are exposed to the flux of neutrons produced in the fusion reaction, and are then removed in order to measure their radioactivity.
In order to implement this measuring technique, there must be accurate knowledge of the 12C(n,2n) cross section, which is proportional to the likelihood that this reaction would occur.
Yuly’s experiment focused on the measurement of the cross section, which has not been well-measured in the past. The present measurements are a great improvement over previous values, allowing more accurate studies of the ICF process.
Additional collaborators on the project included physicists from the Laboratory for Laser Energetics; the National Institute of Standards and Technology; SUNY Geneseo; and Ohio University.
Such undergraduate research opportunities are key features of Houghton’s science programs, and priorities of the college’s multi-year, $70 million comprehensive campaign, “IMPACT: The Campaign for Greater Houghton.” By supporting academic and experiential investment (academic and co-curricular program endowment), Houghton is able to continue to provide the high-quality education and experiences necessary to create scholar-servants prepared to have an impact on the world.