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Virginia Tech nuclear program gets government grant to establish laboratory


Mark Pierson Mark Pierson

BLACKSBURG, Va., May 31, 2012 – The U.S. Department of Energy is awarding Virginia Tech approximately $250,000 to establish a laboratory for research and education in the area of radiation measurement, simulation, and visualization to benefit its growing nuclear engineering program.

With the new grant, Mark Pierson, one of the mechanical engineering faculty members leading the revival of the nuclear degree, said equipment purchases will include basic sets of radiation detection instruments and sources. Virginia Tech will also purchase a computer cluster and displays to provide particle transport measurement, simulation, and visualization. Alireza Haghighat, professor of mechanical engineering, is co-principal investigator on this grant.

The proposed starting date for Virginia Tech's offering of master's and doctoral degrees in nuclear engineering is spring semester of 2013. The university's board of visitors approved the coursework in the fall of 2011, and it is waiting final confirmation with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

Virginia Tech's College of Engineering revived its nuclear engineering program in 2007 and soon started offering graduate course work that allowed a student to earn a master's of engineering degree in mechanical engineering with a nuclear certificate.

In 2009, Virginia Tech's nuclear engineering program received approximately $850,000 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for faculty development and for fellowships. In 2012, the commission awarded Virginia Tech another $400,000 for graduate fellowships.

This most recent award is part of the government agency's 2012 Nuclear Energy University Programs with an overall allocation of $6 million going to 23 colleges and universities to support research reactor infrastructure improvements.

This program is aimed at ensuring that American universities have the best equipment and tools available to educate the next generation of industry leaders and strengthen U.S. competitiveness in nuclear research and development. The intent of these awards is to upgrade the existing fleet of research reactors and support equipment and infrastructure improvements, making these reactors more efficient and in line with industry advances.

Virginia Tech already has strong strategic relationships with a number of industrial entities, including AREVA, NP Inc., Northrop-Grumman/Newport News Shipbuilding, Babcock and Wilcox, and Dominion Resources, as well as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.