Nuclear engineering program receives $1.6M in research and development awards

Posted: October 6, 2021

The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering’s nuclear engineering program recently received research and development awards totaling $1.6 million. Among the awards were four research projects involving nuclear engineering faculty, funds to support the on-campus nuclear research reactor, along with an undergraduate student scholarship and graduate student fellowship.


Nuclear engineering program director, Dr. Raymond Cao, received a $400,000 award from the Department of Energy’s Consolidated Innovative Nuclear Research program. Ohio State researcher, Dr. Praneeth Kandlakunta is a co-principal investigator on the project.

Cao said this project will develop a novel total salt mass determination method for safeguarding molten salt reactors, where they paln to irradiate Uranium-235 fuel salt for the first time.

Cao is also a co-principal investigator for a project led by professor Siddharth Rajan from Ohio State’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Their project will develop and demonstrate a gallium nitride high electron mobility transistor (GaN HEMT) based wireless communication system. This can be applied to near-core operation in existing and future nuclear reactor facilities. The Ohio State team will design GaN wireless communications system, and test them under elevated temperatures and gamma neutron fields using the Ohio State Research Reactor.

Cao is also the director of the Nuclear Reactor Lab, which houses Ohio State’s on-campus nuclear research reactor. The facility, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, is set to receive a $74,000 award to support replacement parts for essential reactor control-room equipment.


Nuclear engineering professor Carol Smidts has also received awards for two projects she takes part in. Smidts leads a project titled “Virtual Reality Environment for Human Reliability Assessment in the Context of Physical Security Attacks,” that received an $800,000 award.

Her research aims to develop a virtual reality environment for the collection of human performance data under various physical attack scenarios. Smidts said physical security staff constitutes about 20-percent of the workforce in nuclear power plants, and their performance has a major impact on the capability of defending against physical attacks. Her team’s work will not only help improve understandings of human performance under severe physical threats, but also provide more comprehensive risk modeling.

Smidts is also a collaborator on project investigating the dispatch of thermal energy from nuclear power plants to hydrogen power plants. The research titled “Development of Thermal Power Dispatch Simulation Tools for BWR Flexible Plant Operation and Generation,” is helping the nuclear industry explore improvements in productivity by creating flexible power plants. The research will include probabilistic risk assessment for addressing licensing issues, modeling and simulation, and verification using a power plant simulator.

The final nuclear engineering awards were received by nuclear program students. One undergraduate student received a scholarship from the Department of Energy Nuclear Engineering University Program (DOE NEUP). A three-year fellowship from DOE NEUP was received by an MAE graduate student. The fellowship includes $161,000 to pursue studies and research in support of nuclear energy applications.