Building technological tools for nuclear disarmament | MIT News

Mentorship has played a central role in the twists and turns of Associate Professor Areg Danagoulian’s life.

As a boy, it led him 1st to arithmetic, wherever a passionate teacher and mentorship from his dad and mom instilled in him a like for the subject. He then adopted in the footsteps of his physicist mother and father and grew to become a physicist himself. During his occupation, mentorship has served Danagoulian abide by his investigate interests, from simple to used nuclear physics and then to market. More recently, Danagoulian returned to his alma mater, MIT, the place he delights in guiding the learners in his lab as they develop into mature experts.

Signing up for the Institute’s college in 2014 was the most up-to-date section change in a vocation entire of shifting research passions. In that time Danagoulian, who was awarded tenure previous 12 months, has formulated new technologies for detecting nuclear warhead materials, encrypting their complex particulars, and verifying their dismantlement.

On the edge of a breakthrough

Danagoulian could not imagine his eyes. It was the starting of 2020, and his lab had just completed working preliminary experiments with collaborators at Princeton University on a new, transportable system for detecting fissionable content that could be utilized in nuclear warheads. The system had been to gather baseline information and to improve disorders from there. But as he appeared at the early effects, he observed a tiny but unmistakable blip precisely exactly where just one would be if the system were now doing work.

“The dip was barely noticeable, but I realized it wasn’t just my eyes,” Danagoulian suggests. “We experienced this suboptimal setup and we already had a weak — but actual — signal. That truly enthusiastic us. We got super fired up.”

If the method could operate with significant adequate precision, it could transform nuclear disarmament treaties between superpowers. In the previous, this kind of treaties have specific the shipping units (e.g. missiles and bomber plane) of the nuclear weapons instead than the weapons on their own, in aspect due to the fact the technological innovation for verifying nuclear products was not compact or delicate adequate to be utilised at nuclear websites. Danagoulian and his collaborators believed they have been on the precipice of developing a technology that could transform that.

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

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

Right after months of analyzing information and organizing even further experiments, Danagoulian’s lab reopened in June of previous year with safety precautions in spot.

“We were itching for action. The moment the doorways opened, we ran into the lab,” Danagoulian recalls. “We commenced gathering knowledge — and this time it was truly higher-high quality information thanks to optimized experimental ailments — and all of a sudden all these peaks started off displaying up just where they have been meant to. It was this quite fulfilling issue, this feeling of triumph, to do something that experienced under no circumstances been performed prior to on such a small scale.”

Considering that then, Danagoulian has been performing with national labs as properly as users of the policy local community to increase recognition of the technology and understand a lot more about how it could be implemented.

Danagoulian claims staying at MIT has even further exposed him to the industry of community coverage, helping him create impactful specialized solutions and main to collaborations. He has also designed a associated device for hiding the layout particulars of nuclear warheads all through the verification procedure. That technique takes advantage of a physics-dependent analog to frequent electronic encryption methods to scramble info about the weapon’s style. The method addresses a further important hurdle to nuclear dismantlement by permitting the intercontinental group to examine a country’s nuclear sites devoid of jeopardizing military services secrets and techniques.

“Verification of nuclear disarmament is extremely important, since a treaty devoid of verification is even worse than no treaty at all,” Danagoulian says, citing the Comprehensive Examination Ban Treaty that was proposed in the 1950s but not fully adopted right until 1996, in section mainly because experts lacked the engineering to reliably differentiate underground tests from seismic events.

Supporting other folks

Amid the multidisciplinary lifestyle of MIT, Danagoulian decided to merge his scientific work with politics. But for his dad and mom, who were both physicists underneath the Soviet Union (in present day-working day Armenia), science and social problems were being inseparable.

“In Soviet Armenia, remaining in a scientist family designed you a cultural minority, and it would inevitably become component of your id,” Danagoulian suggests. “Here it’s a job, not a social course. But we noticed ourselves as a cultural team or a political class. Later on, the independence motion in Armenia was largely led by intellectuals and researchers.”

Danagoulian’s spouse and children moved to the United States when he was 16. His mother and father had difficult lives as physicists, and when they fostered his like for the sciences, they also encouraged their son to be a pc scientist, which they believed would carry much more prosperity and task security. But Danagoulian experienced found a appreciate for physics though getting ready for college, and he determined to disregard their pleas. He went on to major in physics at MIT, the place he got the opportunity to work with Professor Richard Milner in the Laboratory of Nuclear Science as portion of the Undergraduate Exploration Chances Program (UROP).

Danagoulian finished his PhD operate in nuclear physics at the University of Illinois and grew to become a researcher at the Los Alamos Nationwide Laboratory.  There, he turned significantly fascinated in applied science and resolved to be part of a Boston-centered firm creating a cargo scanner for detecting nuclear resources at ports and border crossings all over the world.

At adequately significant energies, photons can pass through even dense constructions like metal shipping containers. When working in market, Danagoulian was attempting to build a system that would send out a beam of photons into containers and scan for the subatomic particles that final result from collisions with nuclear elements.

Danagoulian and collaborators created and commercialized the program, which was deployed in the South Boston Container Terminal for two yrs prior to being deserted through the Covid-19 pandemic, mostly simply because of its higher value tag. Danagoulian thinks it was the to start with these kinds of method deployed in the planet and considers it a important technological achievements. He thinks it could be deployed quickly once more if essential in a disaster involving nuclear terrorism.

In 2014, Danagoulian returned to MIT to join the college of the Office of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

This department is incredibly collaborative,” Danagoulian claims. “Everyone is hoping to help you any way they can. It’s a really supportive division, and I feel my achievements is incredibly a lot linked with the mentorship and information I have gotten.”

Danagoulian has also embraced his job training and advising students, despite the fact that he admits he experienced to understand to enable learners deal with the study and experiments by themselves.

“When I ultimately bought the self-control to enable go, it was quite fulfilling, mainly because I commenced viewing my students get far better, and I began looking at their get the job done turning out to be much better than my personal get the job done in that distinct location. That was deeply gratifying,” Danagoulian states.

These days, Danagoulian is pleased to be in a placement to give the support and guidance that is played this sort of a central part in his daily life.

“Most of my decisions in existence, when it will come to education and learning, analysis, operate, have been closely influenced by mentorship,” he says. “Mentorship is critically significant for shaping you, supporting you pick a way, and encouraging you. I check out to assistance learners realize they are capable of carrying out excellent points.”

Eleanore Beatty

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