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NSE team’s floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

New power plant design could provide enhanced safety, easier siting, and centralized construction.


When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm.

A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

The concept is being presented this week at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium, hosted by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, by MIT professors Jacopo Buongiorno, Michael Golay, and Neil Todreas, along with others from MIT, the University of Wisconsin, and Chicago Bridge and Iron, a major nuclear plant and offshore platform construction company.

Such plants, Buongiorno explains, could be built in a shipyard, then towed to their destinations five to seven miles offshore, where they would be moored to the seafloor and connected to land by an underwater electric transmission line. The concept takes advantage of two mature technologies: light-water nuclear reactors and offshore oil and gas drilling platforms. Using established designs minimizes technological risks, says Buongiorno, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. ... more

Three MIT freshmen win Best Undergraduate Paper award at 2014 ANS Student Conference

Three MIT freshmen, Stephanie Pavlick, Jasmeet Arora, and Davis Tran, have won the Best Undergraduate Paper Award at the 2014 American Nuclear Society Student Conference. Their paper was selected from the 57 undergraduate papers presented at the conference.


perovskite oxide structure

Strain can alter materials’ properties

New field of “strain engineering” could open up areas of materials research with many potential applications.


In the ongoing search for new materials for fuel cells, batteries, photovoltaics, separation membranes, and electronic devices, one newer approach involves applying and managing stresses within known materials to give them dramatically different properties.

This development has been very exciting, says MIT associate professor of nuclear science and engineering Bilge Yildiz, one of the pioneers of this approach: “Traditionally, we make materials by changing compositions and structures, but we are now recognizing that strain is an additional parameter that we can change, instead of looking for new compositions.”

Yildiz, who authored a recent Materials Research Society Bulletin paper describing work in this field, explains that “even though we are dealing with small amounts of strain” — displacing atoms within a structure by only a few percent — “the effects can be exponential,” in some cases improving key reaction rates by tenfold or more. ... more

NSE’s Yan Chen wins two prestigious awards

NSE graduate student Yan Chen has been selected to receive a Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future fellowship and the Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Self-Financed Students Abroad.


NNSA Awards $25M Grant to Consortium including NSE to Improve Nuclear Arms Control Verification Technology

The National Nuclear Security Administrationís (NNSA) Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Research and Development today announced the award of a $25 million grant a consortium that includes NSE for research and development (R&D) in nuclear arms control verification technologies, including nuclear safeguards effectiveness. The sizeable, long-term investment will support the consortium at $5 million per year for five years.


Alan Jasanoff

Alan Jasanoff: Using MRI to reveal genetic activity

New MIT technique could help decipher genes’ roles in learning and memory.


Doctors commonly use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to diagnose tumors, damage from stroke, and many other medical conditions. Neuroscientists also rely on it as a research tool for identifying parts of the brain that carry out different cognitive functions.

Now, a team of biological engineers at MIT is trying to adapt MRI to a much smaller scale, allowing researchers to visualize gene activity inside the brains of living animals. Tracking these genes with MRI would enable scientists to learn more about how the genes control processes such as forming memories and learning new skills, says Alan Jasanoff, an MIT associate professor of biological engineering, nuclear science and engineering, and leader of the research team.

“The dream of molecular imaging is to provide information about the biology of intact organisms, at the molecule level,” says Jasanoff, who is also an associate member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “The goal is to not have to chop up the brain, but instead to actually see things that are happening inside.” ... more

Jacopo Buongiorno

NSE’s Buongiorno named one of five 2014 MacVicar Faculty Fellows

Every year, the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program recognizes a handful of professors who are exceptional undergraduate teachers, educational innovators, and mentors. The awardees this year are Jacopo Buongiorno, an associate professor of nuclear science and engineering; Tomás Lozano-Pérez, the School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Excellence in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; John Ochsendorf, Class of 1942 Professor of Architecture, with a joint appointment in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Heather Anne Paxson, an associate professor of anthropology; and Kristala L. J. Prather, the Theodore T. Miller Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Founded in 1992, the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program was created to honor the legacy of Margaret MacVicar, an MIT alumna and professor of physical science who served as the Institute’s first dean for undergraduate education, from 1985 to 1990. MacVicar is credited with numerous far-reaching educational initiatives, including the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Founded in 1969 — when MacVicar was just 26 and in her first year on the MIT faculty — the program has since been emulated worldwide. ... more

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NSE ranked #1 in the country by U.S. News and World Report

MIT’s graduate program in engineering has been ranked No. 1 in the country in U.S. News & World Report’s annual rankings — a spot the Institute has held since 1990, when the magazine first ranked graduate programs in engineering.

U.S. News awarded MIT a score of 100 among graduate programs in engineering, followed by No. 2 Stanford University (93), No. 3 University of California at Berkeley (87), and No. 4 California Institute of Technology (80).

As was the case last year, MIT’s graduate programs led U.S. News lists in seven engineering disciplines. Top-ranked at MIT this year are programs in aerospace engineering; chemical engineering; materials engineering; computer engineering; electrical engineering (tied with Stanford and Berkeley); mechanical engineering (tied with Stanford); and nuclear engineering (tied with the University of Michigan). MIT’s graduate program in biomedical engineering was also a top-five finisher, tying for third with the University of California at San Diego. ... more

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MIT Energy Conference panel discusses prospects for integrating nuclear and intermittent renewables

Three NSE graduate students (Ruaridh Macdonald, Uuganbayar Otgonbaatar, and Aditi Verma) organized a panel at the 2014 MIT Energy Conference entitled “A Nuclear-Renewables Partnership: The Prospects for Integrating Nuclear and Intermittent Renewables” A commitment to clean energy has led federal and state governments to embrace policies for promoting renewable energy sources via tax credits, portfolio standards and feed-in tariffs. But are these instruments actually achieving cleaner air and energy security? Can nuclear and renewable power sources operate well together? How can a longer-term vision of a low carbon grid be realized? ... more

Alcator C-Mod

Warren, Clark join in restarting of Alcator C-Mod tokamak

Lawmakers join scientists in relaunching experiments at MITís Plasma Science and Fusion Center.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) visited MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) yesterday for the official restart of the Alcator C-Mod tokamak. The resumption of work by nearly 100 staff, faculty, and graduate students on the project follows recent congressional budget action, which reversed an earlier proposal by the Department of Energy (DOE) to shut down the C-Mod program.

The politicians were welcomed to the PSFC by its director, Miklos Porkolab, a professor of physics; Alcator project head Earl Marmar; Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research; Martin Greenwald, PSFC associate director; Anne White, the Norman C. Rasmussen Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering; and Amanda Hubbard, a principal research scientist. Together, the scientists and lawmakers pressed a button, activating a countdown to the creation of a high-temperature, fusion-producing plasma — and re-launching C-Mod research at MIT.


NSE’s Professor Anne White wins Junior Bose Teaching Award

Professor Anne White of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering (NSE) has been awarded the 2014 Junior Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching. This award is given annually to an outstanding contributor to education from among the junior faculty of the School of Engineering.


Mareena Robinson

Margo Batie

NSE grad student Mareena Robinson and NSE senior Margo Batie speak at MIT’s 40th annual MLK Breakfast

As the MIT community gathered for the 40th annual breakfast celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., speakers reflected on how much the nation has progressed toward his dream of inclusiveness over those decades — as well as on the need to keep working toward that vision, despite the fact that signs of racism in society have become less obvious.




Alcator C-Mod

NSE’s fusion research energized by $22.2 million budget deal

Students, staff, and researchers at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) learned this week that the 2014 U.S. budget, passed by Congress and signed into law last week by President Barack Obama, includes the first funding in more than a year for the research operations of MIT’s national fusion project, Alcator C-Mod.

The project, which was designated for closeout in the adminstration's fiscal 2013 budget proposal, released in February 2012, was upgraded to "warm shutdown" status in June 2013, allowing the PSFC to sustain staff and engage in collaborations with other laboratories, but with no funding to run the C-Mod facility that year. PSFC students, faculty, and research staff have not been able to run experiments or collect new data since October 2012.

The new funding is expected to support experimental research operations for at least 12 weeks in the current fiscal year.


Paola Cappellaro

NSE’s Cappellaro and team develop new method to control nanoscale diamond sensors

Technique allows tiny sensors to monitor small changes in magnetic fields, such as when neurons transmit electrical signals.


Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but they could also one day help us understand how the brain processes information, thanks to a new sensing technique developed at MIT.

A team in MIT’s Quantum Engineering Group has developed a new method to control nanoscale diamond sensors, which are capable of measuring even very weak magnetic fields. The researchers present their work this week in the journal Nature Communications.

The new control technique allows the tiny sensors to monitor how these magnetic fields change over time, such as when neurons in the brain transmit electrical signals to each other. It could also enable researchers to more precisely measure the magnetic fields produced by novel materials such as the metamaterials used to make superlenses and “invisibility cloaks.”

In 2008 a team of researchers from MIT, Harvard University, and other institutions first revealed that nanoscale defects inside diamonds could be used as magnetic sensors.

The naturally occurring defects, known as nitrogen-vacancy (N-V) centers, are sensitive to external magnetic fields, much like compasses, says Paola Cappellaro, the Esther and Harold Edgerton Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT.


NSE’s Jacob DeWitte is one of Forbes magazine's 30 under 30 changing the world

Jacob DeWitte's UPower aims to develop a portable solid-state nuclear generator churning out 1.75 megawatts of power that could, in theory, provide 12 years of energy without needing refueling and offer a 50% savings over diesel.


NSE’s Leslie Dewan is one of TIME magazine's 30 under 30 changing the world

Leslie Dewanís planned Waste-Annihilating Molten-Salt Reactor could have a major impact on the energy sector. The innovative design, which she developed with NSE's Mark Massie, mixes nuclear material with molten salt to contain reactions and reduce both waste and the risk of a meltdown.


NSE’s Dennis Whyte wins Nuclear Fusion Journal Award

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has awarded its 2013 Nuclear Fusion Journal Prize to an article about Professor Dennis Whyte”s fusion research at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center — “I-mode: an H-mode energy confinement regime with L-mode particle transport in Alcator C-Mod.”

Hailed by the publishers as “groundbreaking,” Whyte”s 2010 paper describes an improved energy confinement regime for magnetic fusion devices, I-mode, as studied on Alcator C-Mod, a compact, high-field divertor tokamak.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology