Chemist Studies Radioactive Elements

Last Updated on May 30, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Originally published May 30, 2017

By UC Staff

UTEP Communications

A UTEP chemist has been awarded $195,000 from the Welch Foundation to research understudied radioactive elements.

Skye Fortier, Ph.D.
Skye Fortier, Ph.D.

Buried at the bottom of the periodic table are a series of radioactive elements known as the actinides. Both naturally occurring and manmade, these elements play a critical role in the nuclear fuel cycle. This is especially true for uranium, which is used as the reactor fuel. Despite their technological importance, the chemistry of these metals remains understudied. This may be due in part to the stigma associated with radioactive material; however, this is not a point of concern for depleted uranium 238U, which is weakly radioactive and can be safely handled.

In the Fortier Laboratory at UTEP, efforts to explore and expand the chemistry of uranium are underway. As the only research group in the state of Texas investigating the synthetic chemistry of organometallic uranium compounds, this sets their research apart. Lessons learned from their work with uranium may provide new insights into waste handling and remediation.

“We are very excited to receive this grant and are supremely grateful to the Welch Foundation for their recognition and support,” said Skye Fortier, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry. “In many respects, the actinides represent the last frontier in metal chemistry, and we are excited to be pushing the limits with uranium through new and unique molecular compounds.”

The three-year study will begin in June.