NUCLEAR SAFETYProviding Student Research Opportunities to Strengthen Nuclear Security

Published 16 February 2022

Student researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso Aerospace Center will engage in nuclear materials technology research through a five-year, $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Work will focus on the design, synthesis and fabrication of advanced materials.

Student researchers at The University of Texas at El Paso Aerospace Centerwill engage in nuclear materials technology research through a five-year, $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The award renews the Partnership for Research and Education Consortium in Ceramics and Polymers (PRE-CCAP).

UTEP received the initial $3 million DOE award for the PRE-CCAP initiative in 2018. Since its inception, students have engaged in research opportunities in UTEP’s state-of-the-art labs and served internships and full-time employment at one of two DOE national labs. These experiences have given students the skills and training necessary for careers within the field after graduation.

PRE-CCAP is a collaborative effort to transform national nuclear security through nuclear material science applications by creating a pipeline for the next generation of students from El Paso and throughout the country.

“The continuation of PRE-CCAP means we can provide more UTEP students with opportunities to gain meaningful experience in the nuclear security field through collaboration with our partners throughout the country,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., associate vice president for UTEP’s Aerospace Center. “UTEP reached this juncture because of its commitment to exemplary research and work in the aerospace field.”

Yirong Lin, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, is the grant’s principal investigator. Lin, along with co-PI’s Calvin Stewart; Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering; Choudhuri; and Norman Love, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering; lead PRE-CCAP. The consortium partners with Florida International University (FIU), Tennessee State University (TSU), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC).

The consortium focuses on developing and sustaining a diverse, highly trained workforce and a community of technical peers from the nation’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Tribal Colleges and Universities. The group’s research focuses on materials science and additive manufacturing — a perennial UTEP strength — to help the DOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) meet its core mission.

At UTEP, research focuses on the design, synthesis and fabrication of advanced ceramics and polymers for energy applications. These applications include hydrogen fuel cells for renewable energy, thermal and radiation shielding for nuclear energy and advanced sensors for fossil energy. FIU focuses on material characterization while TSU carries out simulations and modeling. The laboratories provide technical guidance and give student interns real-world opportunities to carry out their work.

As part of its participation in the PRE-CCAP initiative, UTEP performed outreach efforts at Irvin High School in Northeast El Paso before the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person engagement. Lin said plans are in place to resume outreach with school districts throughout the region with engineering programs beginning this year.

“We are building and sustaining a pipeline of highly trained, next-generation talents for DOE NNSA,” Lin said. “Since we began leading this consortium, 52 UTEP students have served internships in LANL and KCNSC, and 24 of those students have found full time jobs at those two NNSA enterprises. We are thrilled with the opportunity to continue our work advancing discovery in nuclear materials science and providing more students with impactful research experiences.”