Making technological applications for nuclear disarmament | MIT News

Mentorship has performed a central function in the twists and turns of Affiliate Professor Areg Danagoulian’s lifestyle.

As a boy, it led him to start with to mathematics, where a passionate trainer and mentorship from his moms and dads instilled in him a really like for the matter. He then adopted in the footsteps of his physicist mother and father and became a physicist himself. In the course of his occupation, mentorship has served Danagoulian abide by his exploration pursuits, from simple to utilized nuclear physics and then to sector. Extra a short while ago, Danagoulian returned to his alma mater, MIT, wherever he delights in guiding the learners in his lab as they turn into mature researchers.

Signing up for the Institute’s school in 2014 was the most up-to-date period improve in a vocation complete of shifting analysis pursuits. In that time Danagoulian, who was awarded tenure previous yr, has created new systems for detecting nuclear warhead materials, encrypting their specialized information, and verifying their dismantlement.

On the edge of a breakthrough

Danagoulian could not think his eyes. It was the beginning of 2020, and his lab experienced just concluded managing preliminary experiments with collaborators at Princeton University on a new, portable process for detecting fissionable content that could be applied in nuclear warheads. The approach had been to acquire baseline details and to improve ailments from there. But as he looked at the early results, he seen a little but unmistakable blip just exactly where a single would be if the program ended up currently operating.

“The dip was barely seen, but I realized it wasn’t just my eyes,” Danagoulian claims. “We had this suboptimal set up and we previously had a weak — but genuine — sign. That actually enthusiastic us. We got tremendous psyched.”

If the technique could perform with significant enough accuracy, it could completely transform nuclear disarmament treaties in between superpowers. In the past, this kind of treaties have specific the shipping and delivery devices (e.g. missiles and bomber aircraft) of the nuclear weapons fairly than the weapons them selves, in aspect because the know-how for verifying nuclear materials was not compact or delicate sufficient to be employed at nuclear web sites. Danagoulian and his collaborators thought they ended up on the precipice of producing a engineering that could improve that.

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

“We’re searching at this plot, and we’re pondering there is a gold mine ready for us,” Danagoulian states.

After months of analyzing details and organizing more experiments, Danagoulian’s lab reopened in June of very last yr with safety safeguards in position.

“We were itching for action. The second the doorways opened, we ran into the lab,” Danagoulian recalls. “We started off gathering information — and this time it was actually high-high quality information thanks to optimized experimental situations — and all of a sudden all these peaks begun demonstrating up just wherever they have been intended to. It was this quite fulfilling detail, this feeling of triumph, to do one thing that experienced never been accomplished right before on such a small scale.”

Since then, Danagoulian has been doing the job with countrywide labs as well as customers of the coverage local community to increase recognition of the technological know-how and find out additional about how it could be applied.

Danagoulian suggests staying at MIT has further more exposed him to the field of general public plan, assisting him construct impactful complex methods and major to collaborations. He has also created a linked software for hiding the design and style aspects of nuclear warheads in the course of the verification approach. That procedure employs a physics-based mostly analog to prevalent electronic encryption approaches to scramble details about the weapon’s layout. The program addresses a further key hurdle to nuclear dismantlement by allowing the worldwide local community to inspect a country’s nuclear web sites with no jeopardizing army secrets.

“Verification of nuclear disarmament is incredibly vital, due to the fact a treaty without the need of verification is worse than no treaty at all,” Danagoulian claims, citing the Thorough Examination Ban Treaty that was proposed in the 1950s but not entirely adopted until finally 1996, in part simply because experts lacked the technology to reliably differentiate underground tests from seismic occasions.

Supporting others

Amid the multidisciplinary lifestyle of MIT, Danagoulian resolved to merge his scientific do the job with politics. But for his mom and dad, who ended up both physicists below the Soviet Union (in modern-working day Armenia), science and social issues were being inseparable.

“In Soviet Armenia, getting in a scientist spouse and children designed you a cultural minority, and it would inevitably become component of your identification,” Danagoulian states. “Here it is a job, not a social class. But we saw ourselves as a cultural group or a political course. Later, the independence movement in Armenia was mostly led by intellectuals and scientists.”

Danagoulian’s household moved to the United States when he was 16. His moms and dads experienced challenging life as physicists, and while they fostered his appreciate for the sciences, they also inspired their son to be a laptop or computer scientist, which they thought would deliver much more prosperity and job stability. But Danagoulian experienced learned a like for physics though making ready for university, and he resolved to overlook their pleas. He went on to major in physics at MIT, exactly where he received the likelihood to perform with Professor Richard Milner in the Laboratory of Nuclear Science as section of the Undergraduate Investigate Alternatives Method (UROP).

Danagoulian completed his PhD get the job done in nuclear physics at the College of Illinois and grew to become a researcher at the Los Alamos Countrywide Laboratory.  There, he grew to become more and more intrigued in applied science and determined to be a part of a Boston-based business acquiring a cargo scanner for detecting nuclear resources at ports and border crossings about the world.

At sufficiently significant energies, photons can move through even dense buildings like steel delivery containers. Whilst performing in industry, Danagoulian was seeking to establish a system that would deliver a beam of photons into containers and scan for the subatomic particles that outcome from collisions with nuclear materials.

Danagoulian and collaborators created and commercialized the program, which was deployed in the South Boston Container Terminal for two several years ahead of remaining deserted through the Covid-19 pandemic, largely since of its substantial value tag. Danagoulian believes it was the initially these method deployed in the earth and considers it a big technical achievements. He thinks it could be deployed rapidly again if required in a disaster involving nuclear terrorism.

In 2014, Danagoulian returned to MIT to be part of the school of the Section of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

This division is really collaborative,” Danagoulian suggests. “Everyone is making an attempt to assistance you any way they can. It’s a very supportive department, and I consider my accomplishment is quite a great deal associated with the mentorship and tips I’ve gotten.”

Danagoulian has also embraced his position teaching and advising college students, although he admits he had to find out to let pupils deal with the study and experiments on their own.

“When I ultimately bought the self-control to permit go, it was really rewarding, mainly because I started out looking at my pupils get superior, and I commenced observing their perform becoming improved than my possess do the job in that particular spot. That was deeply gratifying,” Danagoulian says.

These days, Danagoulian is delighted to be in a position to give the aid and direction that’s performed this sort of a central purpose in his life.

“Most of my choices in everyday living, when it will come to training, investigation, work, have been greatly motivated by mentorship,” he states. “Mentorship is critically significant for shaping you, aiding you select a path, and encouraging you. I attempt to assistance learners realize they are capable of doing terrific matters.”