The call to action in the face of rapidly accelerating climate change is growing louder than ever. MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering (NSE) is uniquely positioned to address this global challenge. It continues to spearhead mitigation and remediation efforts through innovative solutions.
It is this critical moment in history that NSE is looking to meet head on with its new strategic plan. The urgency to climate action anchors every facet of this living document. “Now is a very dynamic time in our field, there are extraordinarily exciting opportunities for nuclear science and engineering to make strides and address climate change,” points out NSE Department Head, Professor Anne White.
The strategic plan focuses on both what NSE can deliver today and how it can grow to meet future needs and play a prominent role on the national — and global stage.
The revised strategic plan fuels a sense of urgency, strengthens foundations, and expands frontiers in the nuclear field. It is also mindful that the field needs a clear long-term vision focused on the basic sciences and new discoveries. Indeed, “pursuing basic research that has the potential to transform nuclear science, open new paths to exploration, and expand security and policy horizons,” is one of the three strategic pillars that anchors the strategic plan. Leveraging NSE’s research excellence to advance nuclear energy and establishing quantum engineering as an application area form the other two pillars.
“We see basic research permeating across all the intellectual commons and application areas in the department,” White says, adding that the work exploring new frontiers will continue to expand both the science and engineering arms of NSE.
Key among these research areas is the rapidly growing field of quantum engineering, which is laying the foundation for many advances in the nuclear field. NSE’s strategic plan overtly acknowledges quantum engineering’s growing significance. “There’s so much opportunity for NSE to be a real home for quantum engineering at MIT and in the world and we really wanted the strategic plan to reflect that,” White says.
The strategic plan also reaffirms the department’s motto: “Science. Systems. Society.”
NSE recognizes the vital role the community will play in the future of nuclear energy. Public embrace of nuclear energy will be important, spurred by direct and effective communication from leaders. To that end, the NSE continues its commitment to community building. A rock-solid diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiative and mentoring and professional development opportunities are all part of the reconfigured plan.
NSE’s DEI plan will help the department continue to attract and retain the best students, staff and faculty from around the country and the world. “There are people out there who are going to be making the discoveries that matter and we need them in our field and in our department,” White says, “We cannot solve climate change or figure out how to respond to it if we do not pull in all the talent,” she adds, about NSE’s DEI initiatives.
Building public support and community will also depend on developing the next generation of leaders and communicators, White points out. Already, department students run a successful award-winning student section of the American Nuclear Society where part of the mission is to work with the public and inform them about nuclear science. In addition, many NSE faculty are a part of MIT’s Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems (CANES), which is heavily invested in policy and political outreach at the national and international levels.
White is most excited about the plan’s vision, the first time that it has explicitly tied with climate change. “The urgency of how we need to address climate change, the urgency of what we need to do for human health and wellbeing, for environmental health, for clean carbon-free energy, that is what is most exciting,” White says.
The case for nuclear power is becoming increasingly clear. The United Nations, for example, argued that climate goals will be hard to achieve without nuclear power and called for an increase in production of this carbon-free energy.
And with a vibrant student, staff and faculty body, NSE is committed to making the strategic plan a reality. A sense of urgency underpins the strategic plan throughout. “Our vision is a sustainable future. Work starts now. Period,” White says. Indeed the department is looking forward to taking the future by the horns and making a deep impact on problems related to climate change. “Our ability to make a lasting positive impact is in NSE’s very DNA,” White says, “we can do this, we can make a difference and lead the charge at MIT and on the world stage.”
Read the strategic plan summary here here.
Written by Poornima Apte