“For freshmen thinking about declaring or exploring course 22 - GET A UROP! That is the best way to dive right in and see what nuclear science and engineering is really about.”
I originally wanted to be an electrical engineer. I had a job developing circuits for medical devices at a local hospital, and I had planned to take 6.001 and 6.002 (now 6.01 and 6.02) during the spring of my freshman year. That never happened, because I had Prof. Ballinger as my TA for 3.091 (solid state chemistry).
I did quite well in the class, so he invited me to come see his lab, the H. H. Uhlig Corrosion Laboratory. I was looking for a UROP at the time, and he had this fascinating project investigating new fuel cladding materials for the pebble bed modular reactor. So I thought, "Reactor? Radiation? 1500 degrees Celsius? Sign me up!!!"
Over the next two years I became deeply entrenched in the project, and subsequently joined both Course 22 and Course 3 to study nuclear materials. The double major was challenging, but very rewarding. This department works on problems so complex that you must be both knowledgeable in many fields (thermodynamics, materials, physics, math, fluid mechanics, electronics, chemistry and programming) to tackle big problems AND you must be an expert in your field (nuclear materials, in my case). The courses in this department present the opportunity for any student to achieve these goals.
One of my favorite things about this department is the amount of responsibility and autonomy that a student can have if so desired. As a sophomore, I was already working on an important research project largely on my own, with expert guidance from my professor and graduate student mentor. I, then a 19 year old, was given the responsibility of executing my own research AND the autonomy to decide how I would do it. This research led to many connections, which resulted in my working as an intern at Tohoku University in Japan for the summer after my sophomore year.
The other favorite thing of mine about this department is the community. Here, students, faculty and staff can chat informally about work, school, life, or anything. Cookouts at professor's houses or outings to local restaurants are common. All you have to do is ask, and you will find that the people here are very approachable and friendly. The students here generally hang out together, end up rooming together in grad school, and stay in touch once (if) they leave MIT.
Finally, let me put this simply: This department opens doors. While in grad school here, I've managed to go to Japan four times for conferences, won a paper prize competition in Germany, started a collaboration with the Belgian nuclear national labs, ran our department's SEM facility, and had my work recognized by members of the international community in the field of nuclear materials. It is extremely rewarding to toil away over a hot, molten lead furnace for half a decade, and have your work acknowledged by people you've never even met.
For freshmen thinking about declaring or exploring course 22 - GET A UROP! That is the best way to dive right in and see what nuclear science and engineering is really about.
MIT NSE research scientist Michael Short is an exemplar of interdisciplinary knowledge, with two Institute degrees in both nuclear science and engineering and materials science and engineering. “Interdisciplinary work is where the fun stuff is; it’s where you get to work on challenges that many people consider too difficult, or that require a broader perspective,” he says. ... more