Nuclear Science Lab to Train Students and Produce Medical Isotopes

Posted October 14, 2020, 12:32PM
Professor Mohammad Ahmed instructs students in a physics classroom.

North Carolina Central University will become home to a nuclear science training program as part of a National Science Foundation initiative aimed at meeting the growing medical need for radioisotopes.

Mohammad Ahmed, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, received the $399,000 grant from the NSF’s Targeted Infusion Project to develop the nuclear science laboratory that will include a low-energy nuclear accelerator for research and creation of radioisotopes.

“This will allow us to train students in the production of nuclear isotopes for research and medical use,” Ahmed said. “Every MMR or MRI at any hospital needs this material.”

Isotopes used in medical diagnosis and treatment are typically produced as a byproduct in nuclear reactors. With nuclear power facilities being shuttered around the world and no plans for new ones, developing new sources for these materials has become an international concern, Ahmed said.

NCCU’s low-energy particle accelerator was made available through the Triangle University Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL), a consortium of university research programs housed at Duke University and of which NCCU is a member. It will be the first such program in nuclear science established at an HBCU, Ahmed said.

According to the grant, the project will accomplish three objectives: foster interdisciplinary research; provide advanced skills in nuclear science to undergraduates; and develop research opportunities to produce and study medical radioisotopes.

Alongside his other nuclear physics grants, Ahmed received $1 million from the NSF to study the excited states of protons and neutrons in nuclear structures and $185,000 to perform measurements for the development of a detection system of special nuclear materials for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”

Ahmed said he also sees an entrepreneurial aspect to the program, with the potential for a spin-off company that produces medical isotopes to need demands of the medical market.

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