JULY 27, 2021 — Elizabeth Sooby, assistant professor in the UTSA Department of Physics and Astronomy, is kicking off two advanced nuclear energy technology research projects with grants totaling over $1 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE).
The two incoming awards support UTSA’s ongoing efforts to lead research to advance nuclear energy technology by developing and testing fuel forms that enhance the safety and economics of nuclear power.
UTSA’s participation in this project is part of a new initiative by the DOE to award over $61 million in funding to U.S. universities to focus on nuclear energy research.
Nuclear power provides one-fifth of America’s electricity and is the nation’s largest domestic source of clean energy according to the DOE.
“Nuclear energy is not only the largest energy density form of commercial power in the world, it is also the leading carbon-free form of power in the United States,” Sooby said. “There are two operating nuclear power plants in Texas, and UTSA’s involvement in advancing clean energy technology, particularly incorporating data science and advanced manufacturing techniques, places us on the leading edge of advancements in this area all while engaging our undergraduate and graduate students in cutting-edge research.”
Sooby’s first project is a Nuclear Energy University Program Research & Development award in collaboration with the UTSA Department of Computer Science, Kleberg Advanced Microscopy Center (KAMC) and Boise State University. The two-year project will be supported by $800,000 in grant funding. Researchers will test 3D-printed metals and ceramics to help predict their performance when deployed in the extreme conditions of a nuclear reactor.
“We're going to be funding graduate students and several undergraduates to conduct research in support of the project,” Sooby added. “It’s going to be very hands-on, and student engagement in research is one of the things we've identified as a key player in STEM student success, especially at the undergraduate level.”
Sooby is the lead principal investigator (PI) on this research project and will be working alongside UTSA faculty member Amanda Fernandez, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, who is the data analytics lead. Ana Stevanovic, associate director of the KAMC, is the characterization lead. This project is also in collaboration with Brian Jaques, who leads nuclear energy research for Boise State University. Allyssa Bateman-Draves will assist Jaques.
“This project is really exciting because it’s given us access to novel structural materials that are fabricated in a new way,” Sooby said. “We’ll be partnering our testing approach with the data analytics and machine learning methods led by Dr. Amanda Fernandez in UTSA’s Computer Science department.”
Sooby is also the sole PI on a second DOE-NE research project to design and commission a fuel fabrication line for reactor fuel research.
As part of the infrastructure award, UTSA will become a part of the DOE’s Nuclear Science User Facility (NSUF) network—increasing the exposure of UTSA’s efforts in nuclear energy and opening up new avenues for future research and collaboration.
“The infrastructure funding enables the development of a new capability here at UTSA for production of these R&D scale fuel samples. Being part of the NSUF network means UTSA will now be listed among a national network of facilities contributing to DOE’s mission,” Sooby explained. “That exposure will increase the visibility of UTSA’s efforts in nuclear energy and open up new avenues for future research and collaborations.”
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