The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission To Boost Development in Nuclear Engineering

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission awarded two grants totaling $850,000 to boost nuclear engineering education, research, and workforce development at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The competitive grants, awarded in early August, will support two new nuclear engineering professors as well as graduate student research.

"Thanks to the hard work of faculty, students, and researchers, Rensselaer's nuclear program has enjoyed considerable growth and continued success over the past several years," said Timothy Wei, acting dean of Rensselaer's School of Engineering. "These new grants from the NRC will help to keep driving forward that momentum."

"The United States is experiencing a renewed interest in nuclear power," said Dale Klein, chairman of the NRC. "The NRC has already received several applications for new reactors. These grants help broaden the pool of candidates for the burgeoning industry by offering young men and women careers paths and research opportunities. Over the long term that supports our goals of protecting people and the environment."

One of the awards, for $450,000, is a three-year grant for faculty development that will support the nuclear engineering research of Wei Ji and Li (Emily) Liu, who are both assistant professors in Rensselaer's Department of Mechanical, Aerospace & Nuclear Engineering.

Ji's research focuses on the core design and analysis of very-high temperature gas-cooled reactors (VHTRs), one of the promising candidates for the next-generation, or Gen IV, nuclear reactor designs. An expert in computer modeling and simulation, Ji investigates the computational methods required to simulate the physics of the nuclear phenomena taking place in these new reactors. He also is interested in helping solve the challenge of spent nuclear fuel through the design and analysis of advanced nuclear fuel cycle systems.

A neutron scattering expert, Liu's area of research is investigating the application of nuclear physics to advanced materials, including nanotechnology and polymer science. She has investigated the use of neutron, X-ray, and laser spectroscopy to investigate the material properties of complex fluids and soft condensed matter, and is currently researching how different aspects of neutron scattering and molecular dynamics simulation can be exploited to advance nuclear energy production.

The second NRC grant, totaling $400,000 over the next four years, is designated for scholarships and fellowships that will help Rensselaer continue to attract the nation's best and brightest nuclear engineering graduate students. Rensselaer will award these competitive fellowships to top-performing incoming graduate students. The fellowships are reserved for citizens of the United States, and will help bolster Rensselaer's standing as one of the top universities for nuclear engineering.

As nuclear power returns to the national energy agenda, the need for engineers and scientists in all sectors of the field becomes ever-more pressing. Unfortunately, there are simply not enough young nuclear engineers or nuclear engineering students in the workforce development pipeline to fill all of the jobs that will be created as new nuclear power plants are built and brought online - and old plants are updated - in the coming decades.

Rensselaer, a national leader in nuclear engineering education, has been working to combat this shortfall. Rensselaer awarded more nuclear engineering undergraduate degrees than any other U.S. university in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007.

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