NSE - Nuclear Science & Engineering at MIT

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Sara Ferry '11

“One of the best things about declaring Course 22 is that the classes, UROPs, and internships have given me a wide range of experiences and have opened doors to an equally wide range of choices in future career paths.”

Sara Ferry '11

I originally declared Course 22 because NSE represents the intersection of the fields I most wanted to explore as an undergraduate at MIT: nuclear physics, systems engineering, clean energy, and science policy. The subject seems so specialized at first, but the coursework actually imparts a broad scientific knowledge: we study everything from quantum physics to thermal fluids to materials science, and this means that, in addition to taking classes in Course 22, we take classes in the physics, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering departments too, allowing us to take upper level classes with students outside our major and to take advantage of the different perspectives offered by professors from different fields.

We are relatively close as a Department because of our small size, and because of that, it's a lot easier for the students to form relationships with the professors and the faculty. We also have a lot of quirky traditions, including the professor- and student-performed skits at the holiday party, an annual viewing of Dr.Strangelove, and the ongoing (rather heated) Team Fusion/Team Fission debate.

As a nuclear engineering major, I've been able to take advantage of many research and internship opportunities. I was able to immediately start research during freshman year, when I studied the transmutation of waste in the blanket fuel of sodium fast reactors in CANES. This gave me the opportunity to work closely with highly knowledgeable professors, attend meetings that included members of national laboratories and the U.S. DOE, and learn how to utilize computer codes to model reactor behavior. During my sophomore year, I began a UROP at the H. H. Uhlig Corrosion lab, where I've been working with Mike Short and Professor Ron Ballinger to develop a corrosion resistant composite steel for future use in Gen IV lead-bismuth cooled reactors. So far, I have been a coauthor on two* papers, and I also realized how much I love the experimental side of NucE. The graduate students in my lab quickly became my informal support network at school, and are always willing to provide me with advice, company on coffee breaks, or the office couch to crash on before evening crew practice. (Shameless lab promotion: Mike also won the Best Poster Award, at the 2010 NSE Doctoral Research Expo.)

The Department has also supported me in my efforts to find summer internship opportunities outside of MIT. I've spent the past two summers in France: during the first, I worked at CEA Grenoble, where I studied new nanowire fabrication techniques and the Spin Hall Effect (an internship that wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without the physics background I gained in Course 22), and during the second, I worked at Areva in Paris, where I developed a program that calculates the primary coolant flow rate in their EPR reactor in Finland, which their on-site engineers will be able to use during the reactor commissioning tests.

As for the future, I'm starting to work on applications for nuclear engineering graduate programs. One of the best things about declaring Course 22 is that through the classes, UROPs, and internships, I feel like I've been able to have a wide range of experiences that will hopefully lead to an equally wide range of choices when it comes to figuring out what I actually want to do with my life.

My advice for incoming freshmen? Don't immediately discount Course 22 because it seems so specialized. There are so many opportunities available — from programming, to mech E, to hands-on labwork — all in a field that will see a lot of growth in the coming years. Take advantage of the many Course 22 UROP opportunities, even if you aren't sure that you want to declare nuclear right away: many of the projects give you the chance to work directly with leading professors in the field and take on a lot of research responsibility, even as a freshman.

Sara Ferry

Sara Ferry: A new generation works to fulfill the promise of nuclear energy

The world of nuclear technology is in a generational transition. Many nuclear engineers and scientists were trained between the 1950s and 1970s, but entry to the field slowed in subsequent decades; NSE Ph.D. student Sara Ferry is part of a new cadre of technologists who are working to fulfill the promise of nuclear energy in a world very different from that of their predecessors. ... more

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