Mechanical engineering students present research at nuclear conference
Four mechanical engineering students and two faculty members traveled to Washington, D.C., in November to make presentations on their research to American Nuclear Society members at the organization’s annual fall meeting. Conference attendees included members from industry and academia.
“It’s an opportunity for these individuals to promote themselves and the work that they’ve been doing,” said mechanical engineering Associate Professor Gary Solbrekken.
Conference participation also provides students with opportunities for networking, and practice speaking to audiences.
“They develop the skills to speak and learn to be comfortable in a stressful environment,” Solbrekken said.
Many in the nuclear engineering field have years of experience under their belts. But Solbrekken said in the “aging demographic,” having new graduates entering the focus is a welcome addition.
The University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR) facilitates a lot of MU’s nuclear engineering work.
Graduate student John Kennedy’s presentation examines the hydro-structural stability of materials while his work assists MURR and other reactors in developing low-enriched uranium fuel plates.
Kennedy explained that his work involves two software programs, Abaqus and STAR-CCM+, figuring out how to program the two to work together, and applying that to a model representing one of the nuclear fuel plates at MURR.
In addition to the experience gained from presenting his work, Kennedy said he also found plenty of networking opportunities, both with people in the industry and representatives from agencies that fund research.
“You’re speaking to a group of people who know what you’re talking about,” Kennedy said. “When you go to these conferences, they’re not afraid to speak up and ask questions. It’s another challenge to make sure what you bring is in its best form.”
Emily Elmore and Annemarie Hoyer, both mechanical engineering graduate students, gave a presentation resulting from work completed in support of the Department of Energy’s interest to convert production targets for Mo-99 (Molybdnum-99) from high-enriched uranium stock to low-enriched uranium stock., The collaborative work with Y-12 National Security Complex specifically addressed the assembly and disassembly of annular shaped targets, the physical containers for the uranium as it is irradiated in a reactor.
The pair worked on the assembly and disassembly aspect of the project. Their presentation consisted of their work plus previous research that led up to that point. Both said their presentation received quite a bit of interest, despite a tough question-and-answer session afterward.
“A lot of folks came up to me after the question-and-answer session and said how they were eager to learn more about what we presented on,” Hoyer said.
“You need to know all aspects of your project before going in,” Elmore said.
Doctoral student Kyler Turner attended the ANS conference for a second time to present his work on modeling a new target design for Mo-99.
Turner, a doctoral student currently working as a non-proliferation graduate fellow in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, said any opportunity to present research is a good time to sharpen those skills.
“I’ve given enough presentations at conferences such as ANS that I’ve honed my skill,” he said. “But it’s always good to practice being in front of an audience.
“The presentation was well-received,” Turner added. “There were some questions, mostly on the complex Mo-99 production process.”
Mechanical engineering’s connection to nuclear engineering lies in the machinery used to handle the nuclear elements.
“All disciplines of engineering aren’t cut-and-dry,” Elmore said. “We can work on things like heat transfer and more.”
The benefits of working with faculty mentors on research projects extend beyond experience gained from giving a presentation. National labs and industries are exposed to the work occurring at MU, which can lead students to jobs, industry connections, funding and more.
“It’s a win-win for MU because our students get those positions, and that helps us further our reputation with national labs,” Solbrekken said.