The Lighter Side of Heavy Metals: Science at the Frontier of Uranium Metallurgy

Samantha K. Lawrence, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Photo of Samantha K. Lawrence

The R&D of fabrication techniques for uranium metal were initiated in 1942 at the Metallurgical Laboratory (est. January 1942) of the University of Chicago under the Manhattan Project. At the time, the metallurgy of uranium was relatively unknown, so investigation of the physical and mechanical properties of uranium occurred in conjunction with manufacturing technology development. These Manhattan Project metallurgists pioneered manufacturing science for uranium and its alloys, a mission which was carried to and extended in the first Sigma building at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) during and after the Manhattan Project and continues today in LANL’s Sigma Division. While many of the challenges associated with uranium fabrication are inherent to the metallurgical system and therefore have persisted since the birth of the field, the tools and techniques that can be applied to investigate uranium metallurgy and manufacturing have drastically improved. Recently, cutting edge diffraction and imaging techniques available at neutron and synchrotron x-ray beam lines have been applied to probe hydride corrosion of unalloyed uranium. These experiments are helping to answer long-standing questions regarding the metallurgical effects of hydrogen uptake in uranium and elucidate processing-structure-properties-performance links that can, in turn, inform manufacturing strategies.

Abstract Author(s): Samantha K. Lawrence