CAES Associate Director, UI, Director, Nuclear Engineering Programs Dr. Rich Christensen 208-533-8102

Why is this research important?


In recent years, nuclear energy has emerged as a viable source of clean, carbon-free energy capable of meeting the world’s increasing demand for electricity. However, several technical issues still need to be resolved including waste, supplies of fuel and nonproliferation.

CAES researchers are helping to solve some of the most critical technical issues related to nuclear energy, including identifying solutions to safely handle, store, and dispose of nuclear waste, developing new materials that can be used in the next generation of reactors, securing and safeguarding materials and facilities, exploring novel small and hybrid nuclear energy systems, and extending the life of the nation’s current fleet of light water reactors.

The nuclear science and engineering research conducted at CAES complements the work already underway at each of its partner institutions – Idaho National Laboratory, Boise State University, Idaho State University, University of Idaho, and University of Wyoming.

Current Research


CAES nuclear scientists and engineers are:

  • Developing a process called electrochemical treatment to separate spent nuclear fuel into uranium metal and ceramic and metal wastes.
  • Identifying methods to reduce radioactivity in nuclear waste, including removing C-14 from the graphite used in a variety of nuclear reactors.
  • Educating faculty, students, and practitioners from around the world on best practices to secure radioactive and nuclear materials and facilities.
  • Exploring new ways to use accelerators to produce radionuclides that help meet the nation’s growing needs in research and medicine.
  • Performing separate effects testing to investigate the relationship between radiation, high pressure, and high temperature on nuclear materials.


LECO LM247AT Microhardness Tester

Rigaku SmartLab X-Ray Diffraction (XRD)

Intelligent X-ray diffraction system

  • Powder diffraction, thin film diffraction, SAXS, in-plane scattering

Carver Presses inside Argon Glovebox

Two 25 ton Carver Presses

  • Two 25 ton Carver Presses
  • Model 3887 “AutoPellet” Press 5” dia Platen
  • Model 3891 9”x9” Heated Platen

Inert Glovebox – Non-Radioactive

  • Argon glovebox with less than 100 ppm oxygen

CM Furnace

1700C Furnace
Vacuum capability at low temperatures

Instrument LeadJatu Burns, (208) 533-8160

Thermal Technologies High Temp Furnace

Max Temp 2000C

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns, (208) 533-8160

Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with EDS/EBSD/CL

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns,, (208) 533-8160

Manufacturer: JEOL USA Inc.
Model: JSM-6610LV

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns, (208) 533-8160

High-resolution imaging with tungsten source; Multielement solid-state BSE detector; SE detector; Accelerating voltages from 300 V to 30 kV; Magnifications from 5x to 300,000X; Resolutions 3 nm at 30 kV and 8 nm at 3 kV; Equipped with EDS, EBSD, and CL; Specimen tilt up to 90 degrees; Maximum loadable specimen size is 300 mm in diameter and 80 mm in height; Embedded color CCD camera for sample navigation.

Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP)

Instrument Lead: Yaqiao Wu, (208) 533-8112

Manufacturer: CAMECA Instruments Inc. (Formerly Imago Scientific Instruments)
Model: LEAP 4000X HR

Instrument Lead: Yaqiao Wu, (208) 533-8112

Provides high-voltage pulse mass resolution; Field of view exceeding 150 nm; Local electrode technology; High spatial resolution and sensitivity; Automatically focused voltage and UV laser pulsing with small spot enable improved mass resolution, better yield from poorly conductive samples, and best in class data acquisition rates; Improved signal-to-noise ratio; Large angle reflectron (LAR) design is optimized for very high mass resolution while maintaining a wide field of view.

Focused Ion Beam with EDS/EBSD/ Omniprobe

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns,, (208) 533-8160

Manufacturer: FEI Company
Model: Quanta 3D FEG

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns,, (208) 533-8160

High-resolution field emission SEM column optimized for high brightness and high current; High-current ion column with Ga liquid metal ion source; Electron beam accelerating voltages range from 200 V to 30 kV and continuous probe current up to 200 nA; Ion beam accelerating voltages range from 2 kV to 30 kV; Ion probe current ranges from 1.5 pA to 65 nA in 15 steps; Ion beam resolution is 7 nm at 30 kV at beam coincident point; Equipped with Everhart-Thornley SED, Secondary electron, secondary ion detector (CDEM), and STEM detector; Specimen tilt angles range from -10 to 60 degrees; Available gas injection systems are Pt and C; Equipped with EDAX EDS and EBSD, and Omniprobe micromanipulators; Analytical working distance is 10 mm (eucentric height); Available specimen holders include single stub mount, multi-stub holder, pre-tilted mounts, and universal lift-out holders to hold TEM grids and a single stub facilitating in-situ lift-outs.

Nanoindenter and Atomic Force Microscope (AFM)

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns,, (208) 533-8160

Manufacturer: Hysitron
Model: TI-950 TriboIndenter

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns, (208) 533-8160

Dual head testing capability; Available force ranges from ≤30 nN to 10 N; In-situ imaging provides nanometer precision test positioning and the convenience of SPM topography; 500 nm resolution staging for sample positioning; Automated testing for high throughput; Top-down, high-resolution color optics for viewing and selection of testing sites; SPM imaging; ScanningWear to observe and quantify wear volumes and rates; Scratch testing for quantification of scratch resistance, critical delamination forces, and friction coefficients; Quasistatic nanoindentation to measure Young’s modulus, hardness, fracture toughness, and other properties; AFM/MFM imaging; Heating/cooling stages for investigation of mechanical properties at non-ambient temperatures; Vacuum wafer mounting system that eliminates necessity of gluing or cutting wafers prior to testing; NanoECR a conductive nanoidentation system that provides simultaneous in-situ electrical and mechanical measurements; High load head that goes up to 2 N; Is equipped to operate in Ar and N environments.

Heavy Vehicle Simulator

Researchers in CAES are using the Heavy Vehicle Simulator to improve driving safety and efficiency.

The simulator is built inside a 6,000-pound front-end cab of a real bus donated by Motor Coach Industries. It is akin to a flight simulator, which recreates a flight environment for pilot training. Drivers can turn the steering wheel, adjust the dashboard and press on the brakes and gas pedal as though it were a real bus. Views of streets and highways are projected onto the bus windshield for drivers to operate under realistic conditions. The video display simulates actual driving conditions, using accurate latitude and longitude, and a GPS locator. The simulator helps develop models of the most efficient driving behaviors for safety and fuel usage in various road and weather conditions.

Along with industry, two academic partners – the University of Idaho and Virginia Commonwealth University – are involved with the HVS project and advancements will continue to be made toward the improvement of predictive driving tools for safety and efficiency.

Precision Etching and Coating System (PECS-II)

Gatan model 682 precision etching and coating system

Manufacturer: Gatan
Model: 682 PECS-II

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns, (208) 533-8160

Three penning ion guns with miniature rare earth magnets; Ion beam energy ranges from 1 kV to 10 kV; Ion current density for etch gun is up to 3 mA/cm2 and for coating gun is up to 10 mA/cm2 each; Etched area ranges from 7 to 10 mm depending on gun energy; Coating area is uniform over a 1 inch diameter; Standard coating materials are C, Cr, Pt, Pd, Au; Accepts 1.25” metallographic mounts and most SEM stubs.

Precision Ion Polishing System (PIPS)

Gatan model 695 PIPS-II

Manufacturer: Gatan
Model: 695 PIPS-II

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns, (208) 533-8160

Two penning Ar ion guns with low energy focusing electrodes; Milling angles can be changed from -10 to 10 degrees for each gun independently; Ion beam energies range from 100 eV to 8 kV; Ion current density is 100 mA/cm2 at the peak; Whisperlock with X, Y stage to center the region of interest for re-polish; Digital Zoom microscope that operate in real time during milling; Color image stage in Digital Micrograph; Accommodates 2.3 mm, 3 mm conventional TEM disks, and FIB lamella; LN2 specimen cooling; Set up as a post-processing step for FIB lamella to remove FIB Ga ion beam damage.


Fischione Model 1040 Nanomill

Manufacturer: Fischione

Model: 1040

Instrument Lead: Jatu Burns, (208) 533-8160

Filament-based ion source combined with electrostatic lens system; Accelerating voltages range from 50 eV to 2 kV and are continuously adjustable; Beam current density is up to 1 mA/cm2; Beam diameter can be reduced to 1 μm at 2 kV; Milling angles range from -12 to 30 degrees; Ar ion beam can be targeted at one spot on the specimen or scanned within a selected area; LN2 conductive cooling; Stage temperature can be reduced to -170 degrees; Everhart-Thornley detector; SED-based imaging technology with 3 mm field of view; Set up to post-process FIB lamella and remove Ga ion beam damage.

Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM)

Instrument Lead: Yaqiao Wu, (208) 533-8112

Manufacturer: FEI Company
Model: Tecnai TF30-FEG STwin STEM

Instrument Lead: Yaqiao Wu, (208) 533-8112

Schottky field emitter with high maximum beam current (>100 nA); Flexible high tension, ranging from 50, 100 to 300 kV and values in between); High probe currents of 0.6 nA in 1 nm spot and 15 nA in a 10 nm spot; Small energy spread of 0.8 eV; TEM point resolution of 0.2 nm; TEM line resolution of 0.102 nm; Magnification ranging from 60X to 1,000,000X; Camera length ranging from 80 to 4,500 mm; STEM HAADF resolution of 0.19 nm; Specimen tilt ranging from -40 to 40 degrees for a double tilt holder and -80 to 80 degrees for a tomography holder; EDS solid angle of 0.13 srad; High resolution STEM with HAADF detector; Embedding of EDX, PEELS and energy filter; spectrum imaging with multiple detectors; Simultaneous data recording by STEM, CCD camera, EDX detectors, EELS spectrometers, and energy filters.

Polisher/Grinder – Non-Radioactive

Manufacturer: LECO Model: SS-1000 Spectrum System

Sample Prep Lead: Bryan Forsmann, (208) 533-8161

Linear Sectioning Machine – Non-Radioactive

Manufacturer: LECO Model: MSX-205MZ

Sample Prep Lead: Bryan Forsmann(208) 533-8161

Manufacturer: LECO

Model: MSX-205MZ

Polisher/Polisher – Non-Radioactive

Manufacturer: LECO Model: GPX-200

Sample Prep Lead: Bryan Forsmann(208) 533-8161

Manufacturer: LECO
Model: GPX-200

Precision Saw – Non-Radioactive

Manufacturer: Buehler Model: SS-1000 Spectrum System

Sample Prep Lead: Bryan Forsmann(208) 533-8161

Manufacturer: Buehler
Model: SS-1000 Spectrum System

Vibratory Polisher – Non-Radioactive

Manufacturer: Buehler Model: VibroMet 2

Sample Prep Lead: Bryan Forsmann(208) 533-8161

Manufacturer: Buehler
Model: VibroMet 2

Polisher/Grinder – Radioactive

Manufacturer: Buehler Model: Minimet 1000 polisher/grinder

Sample Prep Lead: Bryan Forsmann(208) 533-8161

Manufacturer: Buehler
Model: Minimet 1000 polisher/grinder

Low Speed Saw – Radioactive

Manufacturer: Buehler Model: Isoment Low Speed Saw

Sample Prep Lead: Bryan Forsmann(208) 533-8161

Manufacturer: Buehler
Model: Isoment Low Speed Saw

Spark Plasma Sintering (SPS)

Dr. Sinter Spark Plasma Sintering Furnace

Manufacturer/Model: Dr. Sinter Spark Plasma Sintering Furnace

10kN-50kN force on punch and die
1-20V 1500A
Air-Vacuum-or inert gas environment
Ramp rates of 100’s degree C possible

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