Did you know that BYU has an excellent reputation for nuclear energy research?

The U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, does, as it announced earlier this week that BYU would be among the 32 U.S. colleges and universities where students would receive awards as part of the Office of Nuclear Energy’s Integrated University Program.

“These scholarships and fellowships aren’t awarded for specific projects as much as they are awarded to students who are working in areas of importance to the DOE’s nuclear energy program,” said Larry Baxter, a professor in BYU’s chemical engineering department. “We have several relatively large nuclear energy research projects going on at BYU and they are awarded research grant money that is separate from these awards.”

The program awards more than $5 million including 42 undergraduate scholarships and 34 graduate fellowships to students pursuing nuclear engineering degrees and other nuclear science and engineering programs relevant to nuclear energy.

“The Integrated University Program is focused on attracting the best and the brightest to nuclear energy professions,” Dr. Rita Baranwal, Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy, said in the official press release. “We are continuing that effort through these awards to students who will help carry nuclear energy forward, while also enhancing educational institutions’ capabilities to perform cutting-edge research, and supporting the need for qualified personnel to develop and maintain the nation’s nuclear power technology.”

According to the release, each undergraduate scholarship provides $7,500 to help cover education costs for the upcoming year, while the three-year graduate fellowship provides $52,000 each year to help pay for graduate studies and research. Fellowships also include $5,000 to fund an internship at a U.S. national laboratory or other approved research facility to strengthen the ties between students and DOE’s energy research programs.

BYU is making some big strides with its nuclear power research, according to Baxter.

“BYU is increasingly being recognized as a source of talent for the nuclear industry in general,” Baxter said. “We have students who compete exceptionally well for awards like this. DOE maintains a list of schools it works with and BYU is on that list. Not every school gets an award every year and BYU hasn’t gotten an award every year — but we have gotten an award every year for the last three or four years.”

He described some examples of the nuclear energy research projects that are currently being worked on at BYU, including:

  • BYU’s chemical engineering department is working on nuclear reactor technology that involves small-scale molten-fault reactors, an alternative nuclear power plant technology that Baxter said potentially has many advantages but hasn’t been demonstrated on any scale yet.
  • BYU’s physics department is working to develop detectors for elements of nuclear energy, including neutrino detectors that would detect the small particles that are emitted during nuclear reactions that rarely interact with matter.
  • BYU’s chemical engineering department is working on a nuclear safety project that is looking at the combustion rates of radioactive hyrdrogen and how it interacts with other chemicals.
  • BYU’s chemical engineering department is also working on modeling what goes on in the heart of a nuclear reactor, which is called neutronics, and Baxter said the efforts are showing promise as far as being more computationally efficient so they can be run in much less time.

The scholarships and fellowships from the Office of Nuclear Energy’s Integrated University Program provides funding for BYU students to be able to work on these types of projects while also opening doors for further efforts in the field of nuclear energy.

“I got a letter from one student who received an award who said, ‘It is a substantial financial blessing for my wife and I and it will help provide the means for me to finish my undergraduate degree next year,’” Baxter said. “The biggest thing is that it helps undergraduates pay tuition and their salaries for the research they are doing, while the graduate students can also use the fellowship funds for housing and living expenses while they are trying to get their degrees. Most students live pretty spartan lifestyles, so having to not have to work while studying is a benefit to them.”

Since 2009, DOE has awarded close to 800 scholarships and fellowships totaling approximately $44 million to students pursuing nuclear energy-related degrees. Ninety-three percent of students who have completed nuclear energy-related fellowships have either continued to advance their education in nuclear energy or have obtained careers at DOE’s national laboratories, other government agencies, academic institutions or private companies.

Nine former fellowship winners are now university professors engaged in nuclear energy-related research, and one was competitively awarded an Office of Nuclear Energy research and development award in FY 2019.

Find additional information about DOE’s nuclear energy scholarships and fellowships awarded at the Nuclear Energy University Program website, https://www.energy.gov/ne/nuclear-reactor-technologies/nuclear-energy-university-program.

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or jlloyd@heraldextra.com. Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.

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