Understanding Studtite:

Nicholas Kurtyka’s Award-Winning Research in Nuclear Engineering

Nicholas Kurtyka, a Ph.D. Nuclear Engineering candidate at the U, has been honored with the prestigious U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) award. The esteemed award recognizes Nicholas’s SCGSR research proposal, titled “A Mechanistic Study of the Thermal Decomposition of Studtite and its Intermediates.”

Nicholas will carry out much of this research, as part of his doctoral dissertation, at the historic Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

The opportunities this award affords will not only advance Nicholas’s Ph.D. studies, but also make significant contributions to the mission of the DOE Office of Science: Dr. Ping Yang, a prominent researcher at LANL, will provide invaluable support for Nicholas’s research. Her mentorship will play a pivotal role in achieving the goals of Nicholas’s Ph.D. dissertation, bridging the gap between experimental findings and a fundamental understanding of underlying mechanisms.

In essence, Nicholas’s research aims to unravel the intricacies of the thermal decomposition of studtite, a secondary uranium mineral, into α-UO3. This computational study combines Molecular Dynamics (MD), specifically employing the nudged elastic band method (NEB), and DFT to model the various phases involved in the decomposition process. This includes creating a realistic structure for the intermediate am-U2O7, determining the energetically optimal decomposition pathway, and proposing a pathway from am-U2O7 to α-UO3. Achieving these objectives will significantly enrich our comprehension of how studtite transforms during calcination, thereby benefiting the development of nuclear fuels and the long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel.

Nicholas is most appreciative of Dr. Luther McDonald, his CvEEN advisor, Dr. Ping Yang (his sponsor at LANL), and Dr. Aurora Clark (committee member) for all of their help in creating and refining the scope of the project.­