Eye on the Y: BYU students collaborate with world astronomers to understand galaxy, BYU professors create a new nuclear reactor to produce safer nuclear energy

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 BYU students collaborate with world astronomers to understand galaxy

BYU’s West Mountain Observatory is one of the 37 ground telescopes monitoring BL Lacertae, a distant galaxy. BL Lacertae is approximately 1 billion light years away. (Made in Canva by Carly Ludlow)

BYU physics and astronomy research professor Mike Joner and undergraduate student Gilvan Apolognio contributed to an extensive high-time resolution optical monitoring of BL Lacertae, a distant galaxy.

Joner and Apolonio worked together with a team of 86 scientists from 13 countries to secure over 200 observations of the galaxy using a 0.9-meter reflecting telescope at the BYU West Mountain Observatory. 

Their observations were compiled with the other scientists’ in a collaboration known as the Whole Earth Balzar Telescope network that allows the possibility of monitoring objects around the clock from different locations at times of high variability. BYU’s West Mountain Observatory is one of the 37 ground telescopes monitoring BL Lacertae. BL Lacertae is approximately 1 billion light years away. 

BYU professors create a new nuclear reactor to produce safer nuclear energy

BYU professor and nuclear engineering expert Matthew Memmott and his colleagues designed a new system for safer nuclear energy production. This design includes a molten salt micro-nuclear reactor. (Photo by Brooklyn Jarvis Kelson/BYU Photo)

BYU professor and nuclear engineering expert Matthew Memmott and his colleagues designed a new system for safer nuclear energy production.

Memmott has found a way to decrease the radioactive byproducts that make nuclear reactors dangerous by creating a molten salt micro-nuclear reactor. 

Standard nuclear reactors split Uranium atoms to create energy. The leftover products radiate massive amounts of heat stored in fuel rods. Water runs through the rods to keep them cool, but when not properly cooled, the rods can overheat. This puts the facility at risk of a nuclear meltdown. 

In Memmott’s new reactor, all the byproducts are dissolved into molten salt. Once the salt is melted and crystalised, the radiated heat will absorb into the salt. This eliminates the dangers of a nuclear meltdown at a power plant. 

“For the last 60 years, people have had the gut reaction that nuclear is bad, it’s big, it’s dangerous,” Memmott said. “Those perceptions are based on potential issues for generation one, but having the molten salt reactor is the equivalent of having a silicon chip. We can have smaller, safer, cheaper reactors and get rid of those problems.”

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