NJIT Physics Professor Solves Key Plutonium Mystery

NEWARK, April 5--Serguei Savrassov, Ph.D., associate professor of physics at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Newark, recently reported a theoretical solution that is the key to understanding the stability of the plutonium crystal lattice. Savrassov presented his results in a major address at the recent annual meeting of the American Physical Society in Indianapolis.

"The stability of the plutonium lattice is important to finding ways to store it safely," Savrassov says. "Plutonium is important to the national defense of the United States, but it is one of the most mysterious elemental metals. It expands enormously (by 25 percent) when heated through a particular temperature range."

Researchers have long said that understanding plutonium is difficult because of the unusual features of the electrons that hold it together. A novel theoretical method was needed to tackle the problem. Savrassov eventually succeeded by using a description of many of the electrons all at once, while carefully including all of their interactions. Savrassov worked in collaboration with physicists at Rutgers University to use a U.S. Department of Energy supercomputer and a grid of 80 computer processors at NJIT and Rutgers University.

The new theoretical understanding is particularly important because experimental studies of plutonium have been severely limited by its toxicity and radioactivity.

"I was fortunate to be able to hear Savrassov's announcement in Indianapolis," says Gordon Thomas, Ph.D., a distinguished research professor at NJIT. "It was exciting both to me and to the large audience. The American Physical Society anticipated that he had some important new results, so they honored him with one of the major talks at the conference."


NJIT is a public, scientific and technological research university enrolling more than 8,800 students. The university offers bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees to students in 80 degree programs throughout its six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, New Jersey School of Architecture, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, Albert Dorman Honors College and College of Computing Sciences. The division of continuing professional education offers adults eLearning, off campus degrees and short courses. Expertise and research initiatives include architecture and building science, applied mathematics, biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and science, information technology, manufacturing, materials, microelectronics, multimedia, telecommunications, transportation and solar astrophysics. Yahoo! Internet Life magazine cites NJIT as a "perennially most wired" university.

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