Sandia National Laboratories senior scientist Tina Nenoff was bestowed the honor by her peers for the advancement of science “in service to society” and “for outstanding accomplishments in nanoporous materials and technology through research and group effort leadership, particularly in ion and gas separations for energy and environmental applications.”
In other words, she creates materials that adsorb (adhere to), trap or react with specific chemicals, removing them from their surroundings. These materials, generally designed with nano-sized pores, are called zeolites and metal organic frameworks, or MOFs.
Nenoff and her team have focused recently on designing, synthesizing and using one such material as a sensor to detect and alert for hazardous nuclear fission gases, such as iodine.
Radiological iodine isotopes are produced at nuclear reactors and can be released into the environment during an accident. Iodine gas travels easily through air and water, and combines quickly with other elements, posing a health risk for people who live or work nearby. But a small, palm-sized device, similar to a smoke detector, could alert residents to the danger of an iodine release.
The detector in development is enabled by these nanoporous materials (in this case MOFs), which have ultrahigh selectivity to only the iodine gas. The MOF will adsorb the iodine gas particles. When that happens, the material generates an electrical signal that serves as the trigger for an alert.
Nenoff and her team have published multiple papers on the development of the sensors, most recently in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, in which they describe a reversible sensor – one that can use heat to reverse the process, releasing the iodine to enable multiple cycles of measurements.