Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

John Anderson


Uranium (U) contamination can be introduced to the environment as a result of mining and manufacturing activities related to nuclear power, detonation of U-containing munitions (DoD), or nuclear weapons production/processing (DOE facilities). In oxidizing environments such as surface soils, U predominantly exists as U(VI), which is highly water soluble and very mobile in soils. U(VI) compounds typically contain the UO22+ group (uranyl compounds). The uniquely structured and long-lived green luminescence (fluorescence) of the uranyl ion (under UV radiation) has been studied and remained a strong topic of interest for two centuries. The presented research is distinct in its objective of improving capabilities for remotely sensing U contamination by understanding what environmental conditions are ideal for detection and need to be taken into consideration. Specific focuses include: 1) the accumulation and fluorescence enhancement of uranyl compounds at soil surfaces using distributed silica gel, and 2) environmental factors capable of influencing the luminescence response, directly or indirectly. In a complex environmental system, matrix effects co-exist from key soil parameters including moisture content (affected by evaporation, temperature and humidity), soil texture, pH, CEC, organic matter and iron content. Chapter 1 is a review of pertinent background information and provides justification for the selected key environmental parameters. Chapter 2 presents empirical investigations related to the fluorescence detection and characterization of uranyl compounds in soil and aqueous samples. An integrative experimental design was employed, testing different soils, generating steady-state fluorescence spectra, and building a comprehensive dataset which was then utilized to simultaneously test three hypotheses: The fluorescence detection of uranyl compounds is dependent upon 1) the key soil parameters, 2) the concentration of U contamination, and 3) time of analysis, specifically following the application of silica gel enhancing material. A variety of statistical approaches were employed, including the development of multiple regression models for predicting both intensity and band structure responses. These statistical models validated the first two listed hypotheses, while the third hypothesis was not supported by this dataset. The combination of inadequate moisture levels and reaction times (≤ 24 hrs) greatly limited the detection of varying levels of U, depending on the soil.


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Date of Submission

December 2009