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$1.5M will elevate Ohio State’s nuclear engineering research

Photo credit: PixabayPhoto credit: Pixabay

This month, three researchers from The Ohio State University were awarded a total of $1.23 million by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to advance nuclear energy research and technologies.

Ohio State’s three projects, in combination with 82 other national awards, represent the DOE’s nearly $67 million investment in nuclear energy, facility access, crosscutting technology development and infrastructure research. The awards will be finalized and issued by Sept. 30.

Tunc Aldemir, Marat Khafizov and Lei R. Cao will lead the university and the state of Ohio in developing innovative technologies that will elevate nuclear engineering research.  

Carol SmidtsCarol SmidtsIn addition to the three research ventures, DOE provided the university with $317,500 in funding for two fellowships and one scholarship through the Integrated University Program (IUP). This student funding opportunity will attract highly qualified science and engineering students to nuclear energy professions.

When combined, the DOE has committed $1.5 million to transform Ohio State’s nuclear energy research.

“The funding will enhance our already existing research capability in instrumentation,” said Carol Smidts, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of the university’s nuclear engineering program. “And it is a testimony to our leading edge research developments in probabilistic risk assessment.”

Developing a dynamic approach to probabilistic risk assessment

Tunc AldemirTunc AldemirAldemir, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, will receive $799,985 to develop a computationally feasible and user-friendly process to complement the traditional probabilistic risk assessment approach. “We aim to augment the existing methodologies that are used to evaluate operational risk and develop solutions for their limitations,” said Aldemir.

His dynamic probabilistic risk assessment approach will lead to a better representation of random (or stochastic) variables associated with nuclear reactor operation. Ultimately, it will lead to a model of system behavior that provides a more complete representation in the presence of uncertainties.

Aldemir’s collaborators include Ohio State’s Alper Yilmaz, associate professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering; Yassin Hassan, Texas A&M University; Diego Mandelli and Andrea Alfonsi, Idaho National Laboratory; and Askin Guler Yigitoglu, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Instrumentation for development of sensors and nondestructive evaluation methods

Marat KhafizovMarat KhafizovA $249,945 award will allow Khafizov, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and other department faculty to conduct research on the impact of radiation damage. This includes the impact of that damage and the reactor environment on optical and mechanical properties of materials, such as fiber optic sensors.

“Instrumentation capabilities acquired under this program will allow OSU researchers to develop advanced sensors and materials evaluation tools,” said Khafizov, who directs the Thermal Properties of Materials for Extreme Environments laboratory. “These developments will allow nuclear engineers to improve the efficiency and safety of nuclear reactor operations.”

His project will support the purchase of cutting-edge instruments, including photoluminescence and UV-Vis spectrometers, a radio-frequency spectrum analyzer and equipment for the characterization of fiber optic sensors. These additions will improve the university’s research capability in the nuclear energy field. 

“New instrumentation will enhance the ongoing efforts in fiber-optic and semiconductor sensors developments and open opportunities for the development of ultrasonic and optical characterization tools,” said Khafizov. His collaborators include Cao and Smidts, and Thomas E. Blue, faculty emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

Improving nuclear engineering infrastructure at Ohio State

Lei R. CaoLei R. CaoIn addition to exploring radiation damage, Cao will lead a project that will improve the use and educational impact of Ohio State’s Nuclear Reactor Lab. Cao, who directs the lab, will receive $184,328 to recommission two of the facility’s neutron beam ports.  

One of the two beam ports, which is less frequently used than the other, will be able to provide more functions for in-situ characterization and irradiation of sensors and sensor materials at a high intensity of neutron radiation. This provides researchers with the unique, experiential tool needed to make high-impact discoveries.

“The Nuclear Reactor Lab also provides teaching and research support for our nuclear engineering graduate students,” said Cao. “This grant will help expand those educational opportunities and increase the safety of the facility.” 

Cao’s collaborators are Andrew Kauffman, associate director of the Nuclear Reactor Lab, and Vaibhav Sinha, clinical assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.

An investment in nuclear energy

Since 2009, DOE and its Office of Nuclear Energy have awarded more than $472 million to universities in an effort to position the nation as a leader in nuclear energy innovation. The awards provide funding for research projects that will move the nuclear energy field forward.

“Investing in the future of nuclear energy is an important strategic priority for the Energy Department,” said Ed McGinnis, DOE’s acting assistant secretary for nuclear energy.

“Nuclear energy technologies contribute to our economy, our environment, and our national security, and I look forward to seeing these projects add to those contributions in the years ahead.”

- Kam King, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering