FRIB graduate student receives prestigious DOE-SC grant

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC) has awarded FRIB graduate assistant Hannah Christine Berg a highly competitive Office of Science Graduate Student Research Program (SCGSR) grant.

Berg is one of 80 outstanding graduate students representing 27 states in the program, each of whom was selected through peer review by external scientific experts. Awards were made through the SCGSR program’s second of two annual solicitation cycles for fiscal year 2021.

Through world-class training and access to state-of-the-art facilities and resources at DOE national laboratories, SCGSR prepares graduate students to enter jobs of critical importance to the DOE mission and secures the U.S. position at the forefront of discovery and innovation.

Berg, a PhD student in nuclear astrophysics working at FRIB, plans to conduct her research on using low-energy beams from Argonne National Laboratory’s Californium Rare Isotope Breeder Upgrade (CARIBU) to constrain neutron-capture reactions of importance to the i-process at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. Her collaborating DOE researcher will be Darren Bleuel, a scientist at LLNL with a background in experimental nuclear physics.

“I am honored to be awarded this opportunity to do research at Lawrence Livermore National Lab,” Berg said. "I look forward to working with the local experts and expanding my knowledge in the field at LLNL, where I will be working specifically to combine indirect measurement methods for neutron-capture processes, which is important to understand how elements are produced in stars.

Berg’s project involves the study of the radioactive decay of some rare isotopes of the element praseodymium (Pr). These are some of the isotopes that are present in various stellar environments and are responsible for the synthesis of heavy elements in stars. Berg’s experiments will help understand the contributions of different stellar processes to the puzzle of element production. 

The technique used for these experiments is the so called “β-Oslo” method. This is a unique way of studying nuclear reactions in stars that was developed by Sean Liddick, associate professor of chemistry at FRIB and in MSU’s Department of Chemistry, and FRIB associate director for experimental science; and Artemis Spyrou, professor of physics at FRIB and in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Oslo.

“I’m very happy and proud that Hannah received this fellowship from the DOE,” Spyrou said. “This is a great opportunity for her to explore new research directions, and to expand her knowledge working with a group of experts at Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Hannah’s dedication and drive are exemplary and she is highly deserving of this honor.”

Additionally, Berg’s research involves expanding upon data analysis processes and teaching these processes to other students and researchers. She will not only utilize the current Oslo techniques for her experiments, but will also implement co-analysis with the surrogate method where data for both experiments is available. This will better constrain neutron-capture cross sections relevant to neutron-rich nucleosynthesis.

SCGSR awardees conduct research projects of significant importance to the Office of Science mission that address societal challenges at national and international scales.

“For decades, DOE has cultivated the expertise to meet the nation’s greatest scientific challenges. Now more than ever, we need to invest in a diverse, talented pipeline of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who will be the future science and innovation leaders of this country,” said Under Secretary of Science and Innovation Geraldine Richmond. “I’m thrilled these outstanding students will help us tackle critical research at our labs, and I know their futures are bright.”

 For a complete list of this cohort of 80 awardees, visit here.

For more information, visit the SCGSR website.

Read original press release here and MSU College of Natural Science release here.

Michigan State University (MSU) operates the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB) as a user facility for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science (DOE-SC), supporting the mission of the DOE-SC Office of Nuclear Physics. Hosting what is designed to be the most powerful heavy-ion accelerator, FRIB enables scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society, including in medicine, homeland security, and industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of today’s most pressing challenges. For more information, visit