Renowned Theoretical Nuclear Physicist Joins GW

Andrei Afanasev smiles
September 29, 2011

Andrei Afanasev, a prominent theoretical nuclear physicist, has joined GW’s Columbian College of Arts and Sciences as the inaugural holder of the Gus Weiss Chair of Theoretical Physics and Energy Studies.

Dr. Afanasev comes to GW from Hampton University and the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. His research is in the field of nuclear and particle physics probed with high-power electron accelerators and free-electron lasers. The impact of his research ranges from energy sustainability and discovering new elementary particles to developing new technologies for non-proliferation of nuclear materials.

“It is a privilege for me to join GW as an endowed chair of theoretical physics,” said Dr. Afanasev. “As my background is in theoretical nuclear physics, I was well familiar with the leadership position that GW plays in nuclear science worldwide. I felt that I fit in the very moment I arrived on campus.”

The Gus Weiss Professorship in Theoretical Physics was endowed in 2003. Dr. Weiss, who passed away that year, had served as director of International Economics for the National Security Council, director of the White House Council on International Economic Policy, professor of economics at New York University and assistant to the secretary of defense for space policy. He also served as an adviser to the CIA from 1972 to 1980.

“Gus Weiss was a strong advocate for the sciences, a generous friend of Columbian College and a dedicated member of the college’s advisory board,” said Peg Barratt, dean of Columbian College. “It is a tribute to Dr. Weiss’ legacy that someone of Andrei Afanasev’s caliber is the inaugural holder of this endowed chair.”

Dr. Afanasev’s interest in the physics of particle accelerators led to his research in the field of energy, with a focus on the development of sub-critical accelerator driven reactors (ADRs). These reactors are unique in that they use thorium—a radioactive element found in plentiful quantities within the Earth's crust—as their fuel. The reactors can only undergo the fission and fusion processes as long as they are fed a source of neutrons supplied by an accelerator.

“Andrei Afanasev is an exciting addition to our research efforts at GW,” said Department of Physics Chair Allena Opper. “He is already collaborating with our faculty on research that could impact how we extract and store nuclear energy.”

The end products of the reaction are short-lived isotopes that do not require long-term storage and cannot be used in nuclear weapons. In addition to several national laboratories, universities and industries, the Indian and Belgian governments have promised financial support for projects developing ADRs.

Dr. Afanasev received a master’s of science in physics and engineering in 1985 and a doctorate in theoretical nuclear and particle physics in 1990, both from the Kharkov National University in the Ukraine. For 16 years, Dr. Afanasev worked as a research scientist in the Theory Center of Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, where he was also elected a director of Users Group that included more than 1,500 physicists. He has also held numerous research, visiting and faculty positions at the National Institute for Nuclear Physics in Genoa, Italy; the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University; North Carolina Central University; Rutgers University and Hampton University.

Dr. Afanasev said he is eager to continue his research in his new position at GW, specifically in the field of energy sustainability.

“The problem of sustainable energy is one of the greatest challenges in the world,” he said, “and I am up to this challenge.”

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