At the beginning of its fourth year, Mines’ graduate Nuclear Engineering Program has a total of 25 students enrolled in the MS and PhD programs, and another 15 in the five-year BS/MS program.
Stephen Pronovost ’08, MS ’10 is putting his master’s in nuclear engineering to work as a field service engineer for Westinghouse Nuclear. “I particularly enjoyed the reactor course,” he says. “Designing a fast-spectrum research reactor, we gained invaluable hands-on experience.”
The program’s first graduate, Elliot Grafil, completed his master’s degree in 2009 and is now pursuing a PhD at Mines in applied physics with a group led by Uwe Greife, physics professor and chair of the Nuclear Science and Engineering Center. His team works at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which houses the world’s largest laser.
Jeff King, assistant professor of nuclear engineering, is optimistic about the program’s growing stature. “The quality of our students will go a long way in helping us establish ourselves,” he says. “Our goal is to become the place for nuclear engineering expertise in the region, not only as an academic and research program, but as a place our elected officials look to for advice, and a trusted source of information for the public.”
Thanks to the proximity of the U.S. Geological Survey’s research reactor in Lakewood, Colo., students take a lab that gives them firsthand experience operating a nuclear reactor. The program also has partnerships with Idaho National Laboratories and Los Alamos. Established in 2008, the Nuclear Science and Engineering Center coordinates research collaborations in partnership with the program.
The long-term goal is to offer a comprehensive nuclear engineering program that covers the entire process of nuclear power generation, including discovery and extraction, fuel processing, reactor operations, and waste management and disposal. To this end, new faculty hires are planned over the coming years, including a radiochemist, a nuclear physicist, and a nuclear materials specialist. Doctoral student Aaron Craft is working with a team from Mines at Idaho National Laboratories this summer. “Nuclear engineers are in high demand all over the world,” he says. “Five to ten years down the road, our energy situation will become increasingly apparent to the public and policymakers, and we will begin to expand our much-needed nuclear power capabilities.”