Pitt | Swanson Engineering

The Pittsburgh region and western Pennsylvania represent the birthplaces of the global nuclear energy industry. Today, the region is poised to lead the renaissance of the nuclear industry, and the Swanson School of Engineering is helping to lead by educating the next generation of nuclear engineers.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering and Material Science offers programs for undergraduate students in the Swanson School of Engineering and qualified students in the School of Arts and Sciences, as well as for qualified graduate students.

For more information contact Dr. Heng Ban , Director of the Nuclear Engineering Program at the Swanson School.



Sep
13
2019

Pitt Nuclear Energy Research Awarded Over $2 Million in Department of Energy Grants

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (September 13, 2019) — The Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering has received three substantial grants from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP) totaling $2.3 million. The awards are three of the 40 grants in 23 states issued by the DOE, which awarded more than $28.5 million to research programs through the NEUP this year to maintain the U.S.’s leadership in nuclear research. “Nuclear energy research is a vital and growing source of clean energy in the U.S., and we are at the forefront of this exciting field,” says Heng Ban, PhD, R.K. Mellon Professor in Energy and director of the Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program at the Swanson School of Engineering. “These grants will enable us to collaborate with leading international experts, conducting research that will help shape future of nuclear energy.” One project, titled “Advanced Online Monitoring and Diagnostic Technologies for Nuclear Plant Management, Operation, and Maintenance,” received $1 million and is led by Daniel Cole, PhD, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Pitt.  Taking advantage of advanced instrumentation and big data analytics, the work will develop and test advanced online monitoring to better operate and manage nuclear power plants.  By combining condition monitoring, financial analysis, and supply chain models, nuclear utilities will be better able to streamline operation and maintenance efforts, minimize financial risk, and ensure safety. The project “Development of Versatile Liquid Metal Testing Facility for Lead-cooled Fast Reactor Technology” received $800,000 and is led by Jung-Kun Lee, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt. His work will benefit lead-cooled fast reactor (LFR) technology. Liquid lead is beneficial for this cooling process because it is non-reactive with water and air, has a high boiling point, poor neutron absorption and excellent heat transfer properties. Despite these benefits, though, lead’s corrosive nature is a critical challenge of LFR. This research would develop a versatile, high-temperature liquid lead testing facility that would help researchers understand this corrosive behavior to find a solution. Dr. Lee will collaborate with Dr. Ban at Pitt, as well as researchers from Westinghouse Electric Company, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, the ENEA in Italy, and the University of Manchester in the UK. The project “Thermal Conductivity Measurement of Irradiated Metallic Fuel Using TREAT” received $500,000 and is led by Dr. Ban in collaboration with Assel Aitkaliyeva from the University of Florida. The project will help to measure thermal conductivity and diffusivity data in uranium-plutonium-zirconium (U-Pu-Zr) fuels using an innovative thermal wave technique in the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT). The project will not only provide thermophysical properties of irradiated U-Pu-Zr fuels, but also create a new approach for measuring irradiated, intact fuel rodlets. Additionally, Kevin Chen, PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Pitt, will collaborate on a project that received $800,000 from the DOE, titled “Mixing of Helium with Air in Reactor Cavities Following a Pipe Break in HTGRs” and led by Masahiro Kawaji, PhD, professor at the City College of New York and assistant director of CUNY Energy Institute.
Maggie Pavlick
Apr
17
2019

The Promise of Nuclear Engineering at Pitt

MEMS, Nuclear

The nuclear industry in the U.S. is at a crossroads, as several plants are scheduled for permanent shutdown, including three in Pennsylvania, the second-largest nuclear energy-producing state. However, in his brief tenure at Pitt, Professor Heng Ban, director of the Swanson School’s Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering Program, sees opportunity ahead for students, alumni and faculty researchers. Dr. Ban joined Pitt in 2017 from Utah State University (USU), where he served as a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and founding Director of the Center for Thermohydraulics and Material Properties. In addition to continuing to serve as principal investigator on a fuel safety research program at USU, he holds a research portfolio of nearly $1 million per year in nuclear-related research. He believes that Pittsburgh’s nuclear history – and Pitt’s distinctive program – allow the Swanson School to better compete in a global energy industry. “Nuclear energy is one of the cleanest power resources and is a vital component not only of our nation’s energy portfolio, but also the U.S. naval nuclear fleet and several countries around the world. Research is ongoing into additive manufacturing of nuclear components, smaller reactor systems as well as sensors and controls for reactor safety and machine learning for facility maintenance,” Dr. Ban says. “The Swanson School has assembled diverse faculty expertise in these areas, and so we can offer technological breakthroughs and outstanding graduates in field.” Pitt currently offers an undergraduate certificate and graduate certificate and master of science in nuclear engineering through the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. Dr. Ban says that what sets the Swanson School program apart is the ability to draw upon adjunct faculty in the area who have direct ties to the nuclear industry. “Pittsburgh was the birthplace of the nuclear energy industry,” Dr. Ban notes. “The first peacetime nuclear reactor was built near here in Shippingport, and the first nuclear submarine engine was developed at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin. Those current and former employees have such a combined wealth of knowledge about the industry, and are a unique feature of our curriculum. Dr. Ban adds that since many of those engineers are nearing retirement, there is a great need for a new generation of nuclear employees. “From Bettis, Westinghouse, Bechtel Marine and so many other in the supply chain, employers are telling us not only that they need engineers, but are helping us structure the curriculum so that we educate the best engineer for the field.” And the research that students engage in spans the nuclear industry. For example, Dr. Ban’s research includes a large project with participation of Westinghouse, GE, Framatome, several universities and the Department of Energy's Idaho National Laboratory on fuel safety and advanced sensor systems for a next-generation sodium-cooled test reactor in Idaho; Professors Albert To and Wei Xiong are working industry to optimize designs of 3-D printing of nuclear parts, Professor Jeffrey Vipperman is studying vibration detection while Kevin Chen is developing optical fiber sensors for reactor environments; Sangyeop Lee is focused on molecular dynamics computational studies for molten salt reactors, Daniel Cole is working with Rolls-Royce on nuclear plant operation using machine learning; and Katherine Hornbostel is developing system analysis tools. “As long as nuclear energy remains a reliable, clean, efficient and safe energy resource, we will have a greater need for the engineers who can be competitive in the global nuclear energy marketplace, as well as who can develop the next ground-breaking technologies,” Dr. Ban says. “And the Swanson School is at the nexus of this industry that is a critical part of our national safety, from power generation to defense, and a major contributor to reducing carbon emissions worldwide.” ### Associated Awards in Nuclear Engineering Predictive Solutions for Prevention and Mitigation of Corrosion in Support of Next Generation Logistics PI/Co-PI: Brian Gleeson (PI), Heng Ban (Co-PI), Qing-Ming Wang (Co-PI)Grant Source: Battelle Memorial InstituteGrant Amount: $1,145,931Grant Period: 04/20/2018 – 05/30/2018Preparatory Out-of-pile Lead Loop Experiments to Support Design of Irradiation Test Loop in VTR PI: Heng BanGrant Source: University of New Mexico/DOE Grant Amount: $150,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018 – 09/30/2019Transient Reactor (TREAT) Experiments to Validate MDM Fuel Performance Simulations PI: Heng BanGrant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $1,000,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018– 08/31/2020Preparatory Out-of-pile Lead Loop Experiments to Support Design of Irradiation Test Loop in VTR PI: Heng BanGrant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $450,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018 – 09/30/2019Integrating Dissolvable Supports, Topology Optimization, and Microstructure Design to Drastically Reduce Costs in Developing and Post-Processing Nuclear Plan Components by Laser-Based Powder Bed Additive Manufacturing PI: Albert To Grant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $1,000,000Grant Period: 10/01/2018 – 09/30/2021Advanced Manufacturing of Embedded Heat Pipe Nuclear Hybrid Reactor PI: Kevin Chen Grant Source: ARPA-E through Los Alamos national LabGrant Amount: $200,000Grant Period: 2018-2021Self-regulating, Solid Core Block “SCB” for an Inherently Safe Heat Pipe Reactor PI: Kevin Chen Grant Source: ARPA-E through Westinghouse Grant Amount: $670,000Grant Period: Oct. 2018 – Sept. 2021.Radiation Effects on Optical Fiber Sensor Fused Smart Alloy Parts with Graded Alloy Composition Manufactured by Additive Manufacturing Processes PI: Kevin Chen Grant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $1,250,000Grant Period: Oct. 2017 – Sept. 2020Nuclear Regulatory Commission Graduate Fellowship Award PI/Co-PI: Dan Cole (PI), Heng Ban (Co-PI)Grant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $450,000Grant Period: 2017-2020Nuclear Regulatory Commission Faculty Development Award PI: Dan ColeGrant Source: DOEGrant Amount: $300,000Grant Period: 2016-2019

Apr
1
2019

The Next Generation of Nuclear Engineers

MEMS, Student Profiles, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (April 1, 2019) ... Two outstanding MEMS students won scholarship and fellowship awards from the Department of Energy (DOE), part of an annual program sponsored by the Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP). Both students are working with Dr. Heng Ban, director of the Nuclear Engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering. The recipients:• Evan Kaseman, a mechanical engineering junior won a $7,500 scholarship designated to help cover education costs for the upcoming year. Kaseman is currently enrolled in the co-op program at Philips Respironics. His first co-op rotation at Emerson Automation Solutions this past summer sparked his interest in nuclear energy.• Brady Cameron, a first-year mechanical engineering PhD student won a $150,000 graduate fellowship for three years. The fellowship also includes $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. Since 2009, the DOE has awarded over $44 million to students pursuing nuclear energy-related degrees. This year, more than $5 million was awarded nationally to 45 undergraduates from 26 universities and 33 graduate students from 20 universities. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Nuclear Energy, Edward McGinnis, stated, “The recipients will be the future of nuclear energy production in the United States and in the world.” ###
Meagan Lenze, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
Feb
26
2019

Pennsylvania's Climate Moment

Electrical & Computer, MEMS, Nuclear

Forty-two percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity is generated by nuclear plants, but that percentage may decline as a result of the announced closure of two of Pennsylvania’s five nuclear plants in 2019 and 2021, respectively. To explore what impact those closures will have on the Commonwealth's energy portfolio, as well as on decarbonization plans, the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Energy will host a special forum, "Pennsylvania's Climate Moment," on Friday, March 8 from 11:00am - 12:30 pm in Posvar 3911. Heng Ban, PhDR.K. Mellon Professor in Energy, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, and Director of the Stephen R. Tritch Nuclear Engineering ProgramUniversity of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering Hillary BrightDirector, State Policies Blue Green Alliance Sam RessinFormer PresidentUniversity of Pittsburgh Climate Stewardship Society Kathleen RobertsonSenior Manager of Environmental Policy and Wholesale Market DevelopmentExelon John WalliserSenior Vice-President, Legal AffairsPennsylvania Environmental Council For more information, contact the Center for Energy at 412-624-7476 or centerforenergy@engr.pitt.edu.

Aug
27
2018

ChemE's Giannis Mpourmpakis Part of $800K DOE Study Targeting Safer Storage for Nuclear Waste

Chemical & Petroleum, Nuclear

This news release originally posted at University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering. About 20 percent of the electricity produced in the United States of America is generated at nuclear power plants, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). This means residents in one out of every five U.S. homes turn on their lights, use refrigerators and make toast – among other things – using energy generated by nuclear power plants. Additionally, nuclear materials and technology is used in other areas, including radioactive isotopes to help diagnose and treat medical conditions; irradiation to help make pest-resistant seed varieties; and radioactive isotopes to date objects and identify elements in research. While nuclear power generation emits relatively low amounts of air pollutants like carbon dioxide, it does produce nuclear waste, which can remain radioactive “for a few hours or several months or even hundreds of thousands of years,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. With 99 nuclear reactors – and two more under construction – operated by about 30 different power companies, America is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power. As of May 2018, there were 450 operating reactors in 30 countries worldwide, according to NRC reports. As such, the safe storage and disposal of the radioactive waste is of paramount importance. “Whenever we deal with nuclear energy, we are always concerned about how we deal properly with the waste that is generated,” said Jeffrey Rimer, the Abraham E. Dukler Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering. “We want to make sure that the nuclear waste is going to be stored for a sufficient time and not have issues with the release of this material into the environment.” Rimer is the principal investigator on a multi-agency research team studying the corrosion behavior of glass containers often used to store nuclear waste. Its goal is to find solutions to reduce or avoid the degeneration of the containers. The U.S. Department of Energy awarded $800,000 to the project, titled “Formation of Zeolites Responsible for Waste Glass Rate Acceleration: An Experimental and Computational Study for Understanding Thermodynamic and Kinetic Processes.” The basic components of the glass are also the components of crystalline materials known as zeolites – silica and alumina, which are present there initially in an amorphous state but then eventually form zeolites. “During the process of glass dissolution and recrystallization to zeolites, cavities are opened within the amorphous glass that can potentially allow the radioactive material to be released,” Rimer said. “This is detrimental to the overall goal of trying to keep nuclear waste contained.” Co-investigator is Giannis Mpoumpakis, Bicentennial Alumni Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “We are very excited to be part of this excellent team or researchers and try to find ways for safer storage of nuclear waste,” he added. Exploring the role of zeolites Zeolites have been used for many years as adsorbents and catalysts in a variety of chemical processes, spanning applications from gasoline production to additives in laundry detergent, among thousands of other commercial and consumer applications. Rimer, an expert on crystallization, conducts groundbreaking research in this field. His work has led to the development of drugs for kidney stones – marking the first advance in kidney stone therapy in a span of 30 years – and malaria. He has oil and gas industry-related projects that target scaling in pipes and increasing the efficiency of catalysts. “At first glance, it looks as if I am embarking on a completely new area of research. But on a basic level we are asking the same types of questions in all of our research: What are the fundamental driving forces of new zeolite formation?” said Rimer. “If you understand the mechanisms of crystal nucleation and growth, how to control these processes…then crystallization becomes a broad platform that can be applied over a wide-range of different materials and applications.” Rimer started researching zeolites in 2001 while earning his doctoral degree from the University of Delaware and continues the work at UH. His extensive research on the topic led to the first in situ evidence of how zeolites grow, which was published in Science Magazine in 2014. His interest in zeolites is also what brought him to the DOE project and he is looking forward to applying his knowledge to this new challenge. “Fortunately, we have experience working with the zeolites that are relevant to this DOE project,” Rimer said. “That knowledge gives us a foundation to move forward and start thinking about questions that we did not pose earlier: What is causing nucleation from an amorphous precursor? What are the rates of growth under a broad range of conditions? How do we tailor these properties to reduce zeolite formation?” The team Other members of the research team are: James Neeway, Radha Motkuri and Jarrod Crum, all from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); and Dr. Bourmpakis from the University of Pittsburgh. The PNNL personnel are experts on storage and glass dissolution and will be handling the assessment calculations, Rimer said. He added that his Pittsburgh collaborator brings expertise in computations and will conduct density-functional theory calculations on the progression of the aluminosilicate dissolution and zeolite nucleation. “This is a nicely formulated team in that each partner is contributing something unique to the project, but at the same time there is a lot of synergy between each of the three institutions and the roles of each participant in this project,” Rimer said. “I think the project will, as a result of our collaborative efforts, make significant headway to improve the efficiency of nuclear waste storage.”
Rashda Khan, UH Cullen College of Engineering
Aug
21
2018

U.S. Federal Commission Invests $400K in Pitt Nuclear Engineering Program

MEMS, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (August 21, 2018) … The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) awarded $400,000 to the University of Pittsburgh to support two graduate fellowships in nuclear engineering over the next four years.Daniel Cole, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science (MEMS) and director of the Swanson School of Engineering’s Stephen R. Tritch Program in Nuclear Engineering, will serve as principal investigator for the project.“The Nuclear Engineering Program dates back to 2006 when industry partners approached the Swanson School leadership for assistance with current and projected workforce development challenges,” Dr. Cole said. “We started undergraduate and graduate certificate programs in Nuclear Engineering and have grown the program since.” In 2017, thermal science researcher Heng Ban joined the Swanson School’s MEMS department as R. K. Mellon Professor in Energy. He will serve as co-principal investigator of the project along with adjunct professor Thomas Congedo. Dr. Ban will be responsible for research and relationships with national labs involved in nuclear energy, and Dr. Congedo will establish industry relationships and act as a career advisor for fellows. Both professors will leverage the strong regional presence of labs and companies involved in nuclear power technology in southwestern Pennsylvania including Westinghouse, General Electric, Bettis Naval Nuclear Laboratory, Bechtel Plant Machinery Inc., Holtec International Corporation, and FirstEnergy.“Our program began with a strong educational focus on nuclear operations, and we have recruited reputable full-time faculty to the Swanson School who are capable of bringing in graduate fellowship awards from organizations like the NRC,” said Dr. Cole.The NRC awarded 51 grants totaling more than $15 million in 2018 to 40 academic institutions. Recipients included four-year universities and colleges, two-year trade schools and community colleges, and other institutions federally recognized as educational establishments. The grants specifically focus on developing individuals with skills to benefit nuclear advancement and safety in fields such as health physics, radiochemistry, probabilistic risk assessment, seismology, and other nuclear-related areas.“These two new fellows will receive an educational experience that leads to a PhD and either a graduate certificate or MS in Nuclear Engineering and help grow the research portion of our program,” said Dr. Cole. “In addition to providing classes in nuclear engineering, we will really be able to push the development of cutting-edge nuclear technologies for the benefit of regional industry and the surrounding communities.” ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jul
6
2018

A Structured Solution

MEMS, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (July 6, 2018) … Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is an advanced manufacturing process capable of fabricating complex components by sintering layers of powders together. This process requires support structures to maintain the component’s structural integrity during printing. Unfortunately, removing these supports is not only expensive, but can also be difficult-to-impossible if the supports are located in the interior of the component.  This limits the adoption of AM by industries such as nuclear energy, which rely on cost-effective manufacturing of complex components.To find an effective solution to these complex processes, the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will be the lead investigator on a $1 million award to advance design and manufacture of nuclear plant components via AM. The award is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)Office of Nuclear Energy’sNuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) program.The novel research will be directed by Albert To, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science (MEMS) at the Swanson School. Co-investigators include Wei Xiong, assistant professor of MEMS at Pitt, and Owen Hildreth, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines. Corporate collaborators in Pittsburgh include Curtiss-Wright Corporation and Jason Goldsmith at Kennametal Inc.The integrated approach taken by the project team will be to develop innovative dissolvable supports, greater topology optimization, and improved microstructure design to make state-of-the-art nuclear components at lower cost, with minimal distortion, and greater structural integrity.“Many gaps still remain in the scientific understanding of additive manufacturing, most especially the optimization of the assembly process while reducing build failure and cost,” Drs. To and Xiong explained. “Removing internal support structures in complex additive manufactured components via post-machining is costly and sometimes impossible. By integrating dissolvable supports, topology optimization, microstructure design, we have an opportunity to drastically reduce post-processing costs for AM components, while ensuring manufacturability of designs with complex internal features like those needed in the nuclear industry.” According to Dr. Hildreth, post-processing accounts for 30 to 70 percent of the cost of producing AM products, with support removal accounting for the majority of those costs. “Our dissolvable support technology enables consolidation of the many manufacturing steps currently required for complex nuclear components into one AM assembly. This will reduce manufacturing costs by 20 percent and improve manufacturing schedules by at least six months,” he explained. “This work will help bring dissolvable supports to not just nuclear applications, but to the broader metal AM community so that costs can be significantly reduced. Metal AM is projected to be a $21.2 billion industry in five years, and these batch-processable dissolvable supports could save the industry $10 billion while also expanding design freedom and reducing post-processing machining.” The Pitt Award is one of five NEET Crosscutting Technologies projects led by Department of Energy national laboratories, industry and U.S. universities to conduct research to address crosscutting nuclear energy challenges that will help to develop advanced sensors and instrumentation, advanced manufacturing methods, and materials for multiple nuclear reactor plant and fuel applications.This is the Swanson School’s second NEET award in as many years. In 2017, Kevin Chen, the Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt, received $1.275 million to lead a collaborative study with MIT, the National Energy Technology Laboratory and Westinghouse Electric Corporation to develop radiation-hard, multi-functional, distributed fiber sensors, and sensor-fused components that can be placed in a nuclear reactor core to improve safety and efficiency.“Because nuclear energy is such a vital part of our nation’s energy portfolio, these investments are necessary to ensuring that future generations of Americans will continue to benefit from safe, clean, reliable, and resilient nuclear energy,” said Ed McGinnis, DOE’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy. “Our commitment to providing researchers with access to the fundamental infrastructure and capabilities needed to develop advanced nuclear technologies is critical.” Image above: Cracking in the build resulting from excessive residual stress in the support structure from the laser powder bed additive manufacturing process. Image below: Failed build of a complex part due to excessive residual distortion from  the laser powder bed additive manufacturing process. ###

Aug
7
2017

Multiscale Thermophysics Researcher Heng Ban Joins the MEMS Faculty

MEMS, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (August 7, 2017) … Expanding its impact in energy research, the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has recruited thermal science researcher Heng Ban to the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS) as the R. K. Mellon Professor in Energy. “Heng has already had a successful career at Utah State University, exploring new research topics in thermal science and publishing his results in top journals,” said Brian Gleeson, the Harry S. Tack Chair Professor and Chair of MEMS. “We look forward to seeing those talents put to use at the University of Pittsburgh.”Dr. Ban’s research interests covers topics in thermal and energy sciences. His focus has been to understand the relationship between material microstructural change and its thermal performance, with research covering experimental and computational material thermophysical properties and measurement technique development. His research can be applied to a better understanding of nuclear fuels and materials, micro-scale measurements, and the development of hot-cell or in-pile sensors and instrumentations.“Many impressive and highly-qualified candidates were considered for this position, but Professor Ban’s particular research interests and expertise make him the perfect addition to our faculty and to the Center of Energy’s research portfolio,” said Greg Reed, professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, and Director of the Center For Energy at Pitt.Before coming to the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Ban was a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Utah State University and the founding Director of the Center for Thermohydraulics and Material Properties. He is also a former associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Ban received his PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Kentucky; his MS in engineering thermal sciences from the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, China; and his BS in engineering mechanics from Tsinghua University in Beijing. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Jun
28
2017

Improving Nuclear Sensor Tech

Electrical & Computer, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (June 28, 2017) … The United States Department of Energy (DOE) announced the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering will receive $1.275 million for collaborative research that includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Reactor Laboratory, Westinghouse Electric Corporation, and the National Energy Technology Laboratory. The award is part of $66 million awarded by DOE to advance innovative nuclear technologies.Kevin Chen, the Paul E. Lego Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Pitt, will lead the collaborative study to develop radiation-hard, multi-functional, distributed fiber sensors, and sensor-fused components that can be placed in a nuclear reactor core to improve safety and efficiency. The grant is from the Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) program, part of the DOE’s Nuclear Energy University Program (NEUP).“This NEET grant will allow our lab to continue its partnerships with leading technological companies and national laboratories to develop solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting nuclear energy production,” said Dr. Chen. “Advances in sensor technology can greatly enhance the sensitivity and resolution of data in harsh environments like a nuclear reaction, thereby improving safety operations.”The research will focus on the fabrication of the optic sensors using additive manufacturing and advanced laser fabrication techniques. The group will develop both high-temperature stable point sensors and distributed fiber sensors for high spatial resolution measurements in radiation-hardened silica and sapphire fibers, according to the funding report by the DOE.In 2014, Dr. Chen received a $987,000 grant from the NEET program to study high sensitivity, high accuracy sensor networks. These fiber optical sensor networks allow nuclear engineers to be much more responsive to problems in the nuclear power reactors and fuel cycle systems, increasing safety and reducing operating cost.“The networks we developed contain up to 100 sensors per meter and can be placed in critical locations to quickly relay information to the plant operators and isolate problems before they spread to other areas,” Dr. Chen explained.In addition to the NEET grants, the University of Pittsburgh has received $2.8 million in funding from the DOE NEUP program between 2009 and 2016:• General Scientific Infrastructure funding: $300,000• Two research and development projects: $1,676,422• Five fellowships: $770,000• 11 scholarships: $70,000Dr. Chen’s research into fiber optical sensing technology also earned him a 2017 Carnegie Science Award. The “Innovation in Energy Award” recognized Dr. Chen’s contributions to improving efficiency of energy production and safety of transportation infrastructures in the energy industry. ###
Matt Cichowicz, Communications Writer
Oct
22
2014

Pitt engineering and corporate research group receives nearly $1 million DOE grant for nuclear power safety research

Electrical & Computer, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (October 22, 2014) … Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh were awarded a $987,000 grant from the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) to develop radiation-hard, multi-functional, distributed fiber optical sensor networks to improve safety and operational efficiency in nuclear power reactors and fuel cycle systems. The grant was awarded under NEUP's Nuclear Energy Enabling Technology (NEET) program. The principal investigator is Kevin P. Chen, PhD , associate professor of electrical engineering and Paul E. Lego Faculty Fellow. Project collaborators include Corning Incorporated in Corning, NY and Westinghouse Electric Company LLC in Pittsburgh, PA. "An important lesson of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 is the lack of situation awareness of nuclear power systems especially under stressed or severe situations," Dr. Chen says. "When the plant was evacuated following the earthquake and tsunami, we lost the ability to know what was happening in key systems. This information blackout prevented the implementation of proper control mechanisms, which then triggered a disastrous chain of events." According to Dr. Chen, the fiber optical sensor networks will enable nuclear engineers to better monitor a number of parameters critical to the safety of nuclear power systems. The sensor networks will have high sensitivity, high accuracy, and high spatial resolutions, with up to 100 sensors per meter in critical locations. This high-resolution sensing data will provide operators with critical information to quickly isolate problems and implement solutions at minimal cost. Scientists at Corning, one of the world's leading innovators in materials science, will help to develop radiation-hard, application-specific air-hole microstructural fibers for multi-parameter measurements of temperature, pressure, and hydrogen concentration. Novel fiber structure designs and the integration of nano-composite coating will enhance functionalities of distributed fiber sensing schemes beyond traditional uses for temperature and strain measurements. Pitt's researchers will also work with engineers at Westinghouse Electric Company to academically evaluate performance in both normal and post-accident scenarios, and to assess practical applications for sensor implementation in nuclear power systems. "This is a challenging project because we will be designing new radiation-robust sensors from the ground up," Dr. Chen says. "However, the success of this project will enable us to improve the reliability and safety of future nuclear systems, as well as existing nuclear power plants through retrofitting. Hopefully, our engineering work will make a difference" Pitt's grant was part of $11 million awarded for 12 research and development projects led by U.S. universities, Department of Energy national laboratories and industry in support of the Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies Crosscutting Technology Development Program (NEET CTD) to address crosscutting nuclear energy challenges. Since 2009, the Energy Department's Office of Nuclear Energy has awarded approximately $350 million to 98 U.S. colleges and universities to continue American leadership in clean energy innovation and to train the next generation of nuclear engineers and scientists through its university programs. ###

Jun
26
2014

Packing hundreds of sensors into a single optical fiber for use in harsh environments

Electrical & Computer, Nuclear

News release published with permission of The Optical Society (OSA). WASHINGTON ( June 26, 2014) ... By fusing together the concepts of active fiber sensors and high-temperature fiber sensors, a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh has created an all-optical high-temperature sensor for gas flow measurements that operates at record-setting temperatures above 800 degrees Celsius. This technology is expected to find industrial sensing applications in harsh environments ranging from deep geothermal drill cores to the interiors of nuclear reactors to the cold vacuum of space missions, and it may eventually be extended to many others. The team describes their all-optical approach in a paper published today in The Optical Society's ( OSA ) journal   Optics Letters   . They successfully demonstrated simultaneous flow/temperature sensors at 850 C, which is a 200 C improvement on an earlier notable demonstration of MEMS-based sensors by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The basic concept of the new approach involves integrating optical heating elements, optical sensors, an energy delivery cable and a signal cable within a single optical fiber. Optical power delivered by the fiber is used to supply energy to the heating element, while the optical sensor within the same fiber measures the heat transfer from the heating element and transmits it back. "We call it a 'smart optical fiber sensor powered by in-fiber light'," said Kevin P. Chen , an associate professor and the Paul E. Lego Faculty Fellow in the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. The team's work expands the use of fiber-optic sensors well beyond traditional applications of temperature and strain measurements. "Tapping into the energy carried by the optical fiber enables fiber sensors capable of performing much more sophisticated and multifunctional types of measurements that previously were only achievable using electronic sensors," Chen said. In microgravity situations, for example, it's difficult to measure the level of liquid hydrogen fuel in tanks because it doesn't settle at the bottom of the tank. It's a challenge that requires the use of many electronic sensors-a problem Chen initially noticed years ago while visiting NASA, which was the original inspiration to develop a more streamlined and efficient approach. "For this type of microgravity situation, each sensor requires wires, a.k.a. 'leads,' to deliver a sensing signal, along with a shared ground wire," explained Chen. "So it means that many leads-often more than 40-are necessary to get measurements from the numerous sensors. I couldn't help thinking there must be a better way to do it." It turned out, there is. The team looked to optical-fiber sensors, which are one of the best sensor technologies for use in harsh environments thanks to their extraordinary multiplexing capabilities and immunity to electromagnetic interference. And they were able to pack many of these sensors into a single fiber to reduce or eliminate the wiring problems associated with having numerous leads involved. "Another big challenge we addressed was how to achieve active measurements in fiber," Chen said. "If you study optical fiber, it's a cable for signal transmission but one that can also be used for energy delivery-the same optical fiber can deliver both signal and optical power for active measurements. It drastically improves the sensitivity, functionality, and agility of fiber sensors without compromising the intrinsic advantages of fiber-optic sensors. That's the essence of our work." Based on the same technology, highly sensitive chemical sensors can also be developed for cryogenic environments. "The optical energy in-fiber can be tapped to locally heated in-fiber chemical sensors to enhance its sensitivity," Chen said. "In-fiber optical power can also be converted into ultrasonic energy, microwave or other interesting applications because tens or hundreds of smart sensors can be multiplexed within a single fiber. It just requires placing one fiber in the gas flow stream-even in locations with strong magnetic interference." Next, the team plans to explore common engineering devices that are often taken for granted and search for ways to enhance them. "For fiber sensors, we typically view the fiber as a signal-carrying cable. But if you look at it from a fiber sensor perspective, does it really need to be round or a specific size? Is it possible that another size or shape might better suit particular applications? As a superior optical cable, is it also possible to carry other types of energy along the fibers for long-distance and remote sensing?" Chen noted. "These are questions we'll address." Paper: " Fiber-optic flow sensors for high-temperature-environment operation up to 800°C ," R. Chen at al., Optics Letters, Vol. 39, Issue 13, pp. 3966-3969 (2014). About Optics Letters Published by The Optical Society (OSA), Optics Letters offers rapid dissemination of new results in all areas of optics with short, original, peer-reviewed communications. Optics Letters covers the latest research in optical science, including optical measurements, optical components and devices, atmospheric optics, biomedical optics, Fourier optics, integrated optics, optical processing, optoelectronics, lasers, nonlinear optics, optical storage and holography, optical coherence, polarization, quantum electronics, ultrafast optical phenomena, photonic crystals, and fiber optics. This journal, edited by Xi-Cheng Zhang of the University of Rochester and published twice each month, is where readers look for the latest discoveries in optics. Visit www.OpticsInfoBase.org/OL . About OSA Founded in 1916, The Optical Society (OSA) is the leading professional society for scientists, engineers, students and business leaders who fuel discoveries, shape real-world applications and accelerate achievements in the science of light. Through world-renowned publications, meetings and membership programs, OSA provides quality research, inspired interactions and dedicated resources for its extensive global network of professionals in optics and photonics. For more information, visit www.osa.org . ###

Sep
24
2013

Pitt faculty awarded Department of Energy NEUP grant to develop advanced controls for small modular nuclear reactors

MEMS, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (September 24, 2013) … Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh were awarded an $800,000 grant from the through the DOE's Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) to develop advanced instrumentation and control systems for small modular reactors (SMRs). The team's research will lead to more effective staffing at these advanced reactors, which generate less than 300 megawatts of electricity but allow for multiple reactors at one site. Principle investigator is Daniel G. Cole, PhD, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and interim director of the Swanson School of Engineering's nuclear engineering program . Co-PI is Daniel Mossé, PhD , chair of the Department of Computer Science. "Because SMRs allow for the installation of several reactors inside one facility, you can't staff each as you would a typical modern reactor and make it economically viable," Dr. Cole explains. "Rather than duplicating staffing protocols, we're proposing the development of a supervisory control system that will provide operators with the necessary information needed for reactor, module, and plant management." Another aspect of the research will investigate condition-based monitoring to better predict fault-tolerance within the plant, as well as in the future change the operating conditions during peak and off-peak loads. "If you can better monitor how the systems function and improve maintenance schedules, you can enhance operations and allow the supervisory staff to better monitor the entire plant," Dr. Cole says. "The ultimate goal is to predict problems before they occur, provide for the possibility of cogeneration within the plant, and adapt to the natural ebbs and flows in the power grid, creating a more economically efficient system." DOE awarded awarding $42 million in support of the Nuclear Energy University Programs for 61 nuclear energy research and development projects in the U.S. This marks the second consecutive year that the University of Pittsburgh has received NEUP funding. About NEUP The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy initiated Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) in 2009 to consolidate its university support under one program NEUP funds nuclear energy research and equipment upgrades at U.S. colleges and universities, and provides student educational support. NEUP plays a key role in helping the Department of Energy accomplish its mission of leading the nation's investment in the development and exploration of advanced nuclear science and technology. As stated in its Nuclear Energy Roadmap, the Department promotes nuclear energy as a resource capable of meeting the nation's energy, environmental and national security needs by resolving technical, cost, safety, security, and proliferation resistance through research, development and demonstration. For more information, visit www.neup.gov. About Pitt's Nuclear Engineering Program Pitt's nuclear engineering program, offered through the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, is the only undergraduate and graduate program of its kind in western Pennsylvania. Established in 2006, the program develops relevant curricula in concert with industry leaders and is supported with grants from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy. The Pittsburgh region hosts one of the highest concentrations of nuclear-power-related companies and expertise, including FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, which operates the Beaver Valley Power Station nuclear power plant in Shippingport; Bechtel Bettis, Inc.; and Westinghouse Electric Company. ###

Nov
1
2012

Pitt’s Nov. 8 Nuclear Night connects student engineers with industry leaders

MEMS, Nuclear

UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH NEWS RELEASE PITTSBURGH  (November 1, 2012) ... Western Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh metropolitan region represent the birthplace of the global nuclear energy industry. Student engineers at the University of Pittsburgh can explore why this region is poised to lead the renaissance of the nuclear industry by making connections with representatives from the region's leading nuclear power industry groups at the University of Pittsburgh's fifth annual Nuclear Night, to be held 7-9 p.m. Nov. 8 in the William Pitt Union, 4200 Fifth Ave., Oakland. This free event is open to the public and hosted by Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering. FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company President and Chief Operating Officer Peter P. Sena III will be the keynote speaker of Nuclear Night, which will also highlight Pitt's new Master of Science programs and its nuclear engineering certificate program-the only program of its kind in Western Pennsylvania. "Nuclear Night has become one of the best opportunities for our students to learn about the tremendous impact of the nuclear industry in our region and the varied career opportunities available," said Larry Foulke, interim director of the nuclear engineering program and adjunct professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Pitt. "FirstEnergy has been a longtime partner with the nuclear engineering program, and our students will benefit from the industry insights of our keynote speaker Peter Sena." During his keynote address, Sena will discuss the company's long-term nuclear improvement initiatives and discuss the future of the U.S. nuclear industry as a whole. "Nuclear engineering is not about reactors, pumps, and valves, bur rather it's about the people who make it happen," said Sena. "As our workforce ages and retires, we're looking for the next generation of industry leaders. Pitt's program is unique in what it provides students, and it's a great resource for our organization." For more information on Nuclear Night, contact Danielle Ilchuk at cfenergy@pitt.edu.  Pitt's nuclear engineering program, offered through the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, is the only undergraduate and graduate program of its kind in Western Pennsylvania. Established in 2006, the program develops relevant curricula in concert with industry leaders and is supported with grants from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Energy. The Pittsburgh region hosts one of the highest concentrations of nuclear-power-related companies and expertise, including FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, which operates the Beaver Valley Power Station nuclear power plant in Shippingport; Bechtel Bettis, Inc.; and Westinghouse Electric Company. ###

May
10
2012

Swanson School of Engineering faculty win first grants from DOE Nuclear Energy University Programs

MEMS, Nuclear

PITTSBURGH (May 10, 2012) … In a first for the University of Pittsburgh, the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded $1.3 million to the Swanson School of Engineering through the DOE's Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) . The grants will support graduate fellowships and research grants primarily in the School's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science. The grant total includes $876,422 for computer modeling research into future generations of high-temperature reactors; $300,000 for a new radiation detection and measurement laboratory; and a $155,000 fellowship for a student pursuing a career in the nuclear field. In addition, a shared $599,802 grant with State University of New York - Stony Brook will help to develop a self-powered sensing and actuation system for nuclear reactors in case of major power failures. "This is a tremendous accomplishment for our Nuclear Engineering program, which has experienced steady growth thanks to the resurgence of the region's nuclear energy industry," noted Gerald D. Holder, PhD, US Steel Dean of Engineering. "I congratulate Dr. Kimber and Dr. Metzger, and Ms. Patel on receiving what I believe will be the first of many NEUP grants at Swanson. Very High Temperature Reactors A team from the Swanson School of Engineering, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and Westinghouse will utilize the $876,422 grant to develop a comprehensive experimentally validated computational framework for the turbulent mixing in the lower plenum of next generation high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs). These high-efficiency reactors are utilized for electricity production and a broad range of process heat applications. The team includes Principal Investigator Mark Kimber, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science; John Brigham, PhD, Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering and Mechanics in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Anirban Jana, PhD, Sr. Scientific Specialist, Scientific Applications and User Support at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center; and Milorad Dzodzo, PhD, Westinghouse Electric Company. Through computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling and experimental validation, the results from this project will lay the groundwork for future stress analysis, failure and fatigue studies, and uncertainty quantification for HTGR systems. Radiation Detection and Measurement Laboratory This $300,000 grant with the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine will enable Pitt to purchase detectors, instrumentation, and sources to establish and equip a new Radiation Detection and Measurement Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh. The Principal Investigator is John Metzger, PE, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Director of the Nuclear Engineering Program. Co-PIs from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine include N. Scott Mason, PhD, Research Associate Professor of Radiology; Michael Sheetz, MS, CHP, DABMP, University Radiology Safety Officer; and Brian Lopresti, Research Instructor. Graduate Fellowship Rita Patel, MEMS '12, received a $155,000 fellowship to begin her graduate studies in materials science. Her advisor is Gerald H. Meier, PhD, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Director of Materials Science and Engineering Program. Thermoelectric-Driven Sustainable Sensing and Actuation Systems for Fault-Tolerant Nuclear Incidents The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear incident in March 2011 represented an unprecedented stress test on the safety and backup systems of a nuclear power plant. Even though independent backup power systems were available, their battery sources were ultimately drained. This $599,802 project, led by Principal Investigator Jon Longtin, Ph.D., P.E., Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook, joined by Pitt's Dr. John Metzger, will investigate the development of sensing and actuation systems powered by the reactor's own intrinsic heat, rather than external power or backup battery systems. About NEUP The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy initiated Nuclear Energy University Programs (NEUP) in FY 2009 to consolidate its university support under one program. NEUP funds nuclear energy research and equipment upgrades at U.S. colleges and universities. NEUP plays a key role in helping the Department of Energy accomplish its mission of leading the nation's investment in the development and exploration of advanced nuclear science and technology. DOE promotes nuclear power as a resource capable of meeting the Nation's energy, environmental and national security needs by resolving technical and regulatory barriers through research, development and demonstration. For more information, visit www.neup.gov. About the Swanson School of Engineering The University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering is one of the oldest engineering programs in the United States. The Swanson School has excelled in basic and applied research during the past decade and is on the forefront of 21st-century technology, including energy systems, sustainability, bioengineering, microsystems and nanosystems, computational modeling, and advanced materials development. Approximately 120 faculty members serve more than 3,200 undergraduate and graduate students in six departments, including bioengineering, chemical and petroleum engineering, civil and environmental engineering, electrical engineering, industrial engineering, and mechanical engineering and materials science. For the two most-recently reported consecutive years, 2009 and 2010, the Swanson School has had the second-highest percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to women in North America, according to the American Society for Engineering Education. ###

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