NSE - Nuclear Science & Engineering at MIT


2021 NSE Research Expo

This year's virtual event was held on Friday, March 19, 2021. The two best poster winners are:

  • Judges’ Selection: Isabel Naranjo De Candido — Flexible Siting Criteria and Staff Minimization for Micro-Reactors: Staff minimization strategy. Advisor: Prof. Jacopo Buongiorno
  • Attendees’ Selection: Guoqing Wang — Quantum Information Applications Based on Modulated Quantum Control. Advisor: Prof. Paola Cappellaro

2021 NSE Expo, MIT

The MIT Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering’s Graduate Student Expo showcases groundbreaking research from NSE’s various labs and provides an opportunity for prospective students to learn about what projects they may be able to work on if they choose to come to MIT in the fall. The event features research posters presented by current doctoral and masters students as well as signature oral presentations given by students chosen from each of the three main areas of research within the department. Each year this event provides a unique opportunity for the MIT community to learn more about the diverse research being conducted within NSE by faculty and graduate students.

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM   Signature Presentations
10:45 AM – 11:30 AM   Poster Session
11:30 AM – 11:45 AM   Break
11:45 AM – 12:45 PM   Panel of Alumni on Careers

Signature Presentations

10:00 AM – 10:45 AM

The Expo features oral presentations by three doctoral students. Together, they illustrate the exciting research performed in areas of fission, fusion, and nuclear security.

Yifeng Che — When Data Science Meets Nuclear Fuel

As the heart of a nuclear reactor, the nuclear fuel undergoes a series of complicated thermo-mechanical degradation, which poses constraints to reactor operation and fuel loading design. The conventional fuel performance analysis is subjected to two major challenges: great uncertainty and high computational cost, stemming from expensive irradiation testing and tight multi-physics feedbacks. Thanks to advanced data science techniques, we can now access fresh perspectives to tackle these challenges. On one front, we brought in a novel Bayesian framework to reduce modeling uncertainty and improve prediction accuracy, especially with expensive computational tools. On a second front, we used machine learning methods to significantly speed up the full-core fuel performance analysis, and achieved an acceleration of at least 4,000 times the speed of traditional fuel performance analysis codes. By addressing the uncertainty challenge, we can expedite the development and licensing of new high performing fuel, and by reducing computational cost, our data-driven approaches hold great promise for modern core design optimization.

Rachel Bielajew — Plasma Turbulence and Confinement: Exploring New Frontiers

Achieving net energy output from future fusion reactors requires the successful control and confinement of extremely high temperature plasmas. However, turbulence in the plasma poses a challenge to confinement because it drives energy out of the plasma and could prevent net energy output operation. Improved plasma confinement regimes have been observed in some fusion reactor experiments, but open questions exist about how turbulence occurs at the edge of these plasmas and how this turbulence affects reactor performance. Experiments at the ASDEX Upgrade tokamak fusion reactor in Germany are helping us better understand the physics of turbulence at the edge of these plasmas. In this talk, I will discuss observations in the improved confinement regime “I-mode” from the Correlation Electron Cyclotron Emission diagnostic at ASDEX Upgrade, which measures turbulent electron temperature fluctuations and characterizes turbulence conditions at the plasma edge. I will also share physics insights we gained from simulating plasma turbulence in I-mode. By coupling experiments with computational techniques, we can understand key plasma behaviors that will need to be considered in future fusion reactors.

Ethan Klein — Neutrons for Nuclear Security: Using Portable Neutron Generators to Analyze Nuclear Material

Nuclear safeguards rely on techniques to identify and quantify nuclear material for detecting the misuse of nuclear facilities or the diversion of nuclear material from non-peaceful purposes. However, most currently deployed techniques face considerable limitations: passive detection capabilities are unable to detect shielded nuclear material and many active detection systems require the use of large-scale, off-site experimental facilities. Recent advancements in the attainable neutron flux of compact neutron generators have improved the feasibility of performing material identification using active neutron interrogation for on-site nuclear safeguards and security applications. We demonstrate the use of a lightweight, portable neutron generator to analyze epithermal neutron resonances of mid- and high-Z elements (e.g. W, U) and determine the isotopic composition of a target object. Our experimental results show that the neutron generation properties of these portable neutron sources are sufficient to identify nuclear material in the presence of shielding and other high-Z elements in a timely manner. The extension of neutron interrogation techniques from facility-scale to lab-scale holds promise to provide an on-site capability to nuclear inspectors for analyzing nuclear material in operational scenarios.

Poster Session

10:45 AM – 11:30 AM

NSE masters and doctoral students share the latest in NSE research during a live poster session. Attendees will have the ability move from room to room to explore each poster. A Zoom version of 5.3.0 or higher is needed to enable this functionality (MIT’s version of Zoom already allows it). Attendees will have the chance to vote for posters that stand out on the basis of technical content, visual design, research pitch, and Q&A management. Another “Outstanding Poster” will be selected by a panel of judges comprising of Department Head Prof. Anne White, Prof. Mingda Li, NSE Communication Lab Manager Dr. Marina Dang, and special guest Jake Jurewicz (’14, SM ’15), Manager of Corporate of Strategy at Exelon.

View program (PDF)


Patrick Adrian, Gustavo Aguiar, Scott Alsid, Abtin Ameri, Benjamin Dacus, Alexis Devitre, Charles Hirst, Richard Ibekwe, Miriam Kreher, Justin Kunimune, Peter Lalor, Peninah Levine, Changhao Li, Anna Liang, Julie Logan, Sam McAlpine, Farheen Naqvi, Isabel Naranjo De Candido, Madhumitha Ravichandran, Gavin Ridley, Sean Robertson, Lucas Rush, Erica Salazar, Eli Sanchez, Robbie Stewart, Amelia Trainer, Yu-Jou Wang, Jiayue Wang, Guoqing Wang, Patrick White, Limiao Zhang

Career Insights from Alumni (panel discussion)

11:45 AM – 12:45 PM

This year, the Expo includes a panel of alumni. Drawing from their professional journeys, the panelists will offer perspective and guidance on career, networking, and skill building. Attendees will submit questions during the session and the discussion will be moderated by graduate student Robbie Stewart.


  • Mareena Robinson Snowden (PhD ’17)
    Dr. Mareena Robinson Snowden is a senior engineer in the National Security Analysis Department at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Her current research portfolio includes future nuclear weapon systems, nuclear crisis issues, and new technology for surface warfare. Prior to joining JHU APL, Robinson Snowden was a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow with the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where her research focused on nuclear arms control verification and nonproliferation. She has also served as a National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Graduate Fellow (NGFP) in the Office of Major Modernization Programs. This office is responsible for the modernization of warhead systems and ensuring access to the strategic materials used in the U.S. stockpile. Robinson Snowden holds a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT, and a B.S. in physics from Florida A&M University. Her doctoral research, funded by the NNSA Stockpile Stewardship Graduate Fellowship Program, focused on the use of radiation detection in the verification of nuclear arms reduction treaties.
  • Anna Erickson (SM ’08, PhD ’11)
    Prof. Anna Erickson earner her M.S. and Ph.D. in Nuclear Science and Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008 and 2011, respectively. She is an Associate Professor of Nuclear and Radiological Engineering and an adjunct professor in the School of Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research is focused on bridging a critical gap between the reactor engineering and nuclear nonproliferation communities by integrating theoretical reactor analysis and design and experimental detection. Erickson is the Director of the Consortium for Enabling Technologies and Innovation, a $25M Consortium sponsored by DOE National Nuclear Security Administration and composed of twelve institutions of higher education (IHE) and twelve national laboratories with an objective to create a research and education environment to support cross-cutting technologies for nuclear nonproliferation. She is a co-author of Active Interrogation in Nuclear Security: Science, Technology, and Systems, published by Nature Springer in 2018, and over a hundred of journal publications, conference proceedings and presentations.
  • John Kelly (SM ’78, PhD ’80)
    Dr. John E. Kelly is Past President of the American Nuclear Society. Immediately prior to that, he was the Chief Technology Officer for Nuclear Energy at DOE where he was responsible for establishing the strategic technical direction for the entire civilian nuclear energy R&D program. He had served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Reactor Technologies where he was responsible programs on Small Modular Reactors, Light Water Reactors, Generation IV reactors, and nuclear power systems for space exploration. Internationally, he chaired the Generation IV International Forum and the IAEA Standing Advisory Group on Nuclear Energy. Before DOE, he spent 30 years at Sandia National Laboratories engaged in a broad spectrum of research programs in nuclear reactor safety, advanced nuclear energy technology, and national security. Kelly received his B.S. degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan in 1976 and his Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1980.


2019 NSE Research Expo
2018 NSE Research Expo

March 2021

Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, 24-107 (map)
Cambridge, MA 02139